Rocket Men in Red Tape


The bill that would have allowed passengers on private spacecraft on a "fly at your own risk" basis appears to be dead this year, MSNBC reports. (The X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne was licensed only for crew.) The sticking point with the House Transportation Committee is passenger safety:

The FAA's role in monitoring the safety of suborbital spaceflights became a key issue in the congressional negotiations. The industry argued for less restrictive standards, saying that the FAA should be concerned with safeguarding only the uninvolved public. But some of the parties involved in the Capitol Hill negotiations pressed for the FAA to watch out for the safety of the crew and passengers as well.

…last week's compromise…called for the FAA to consider crew and passenger safety only if the spacecraft in question "has already been shown in real flights to cause problems"—for example, if there were deaths, serious injuries or close calls.

That provision would apply for eight years, to give the suborbital space industry a chance to mature, just as commercial aviation matured relatively free from regulation in the early barnstorming era. Starting in 2012, the FAA could regulate the industry however it saw fit, [House Science Committee chief of staff David] Goldston said.

When the Transportation Committee looked at the compromise, the language on safety regulations stuck out like a "red flag that was waving brightly," [Committee director of communications Steve] Hansen said.

"The FAA could not administer safety regulations unless someone is killed on one of these flights, until 2012. A provision like that in itself, we believe, requires a more serious explanation than what we've received so far," Hansen said.

The long article explains most of the twists and turns the legislation, H.R. 3752, has taken, and is worth checking out in its entirety.