Rocket Men in Red Tape

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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.

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  1. So make the passengers part of the crew. Give them some training.

    They should know how to turn the damn thing if it’s about to crash into Oakland, anyway.

  2. If these FAA rules had been present at the inception, the civilian aviation industry would never have even GOTTEN OFF THE GROUND! It’s time for the FAA to just get out of the way. So often, government agencies exert a “dark ages” force, impeding progress.

  3. Well that was a close call, I’m glad they are looking out for us all.

  4. “If these FAA rules had been present at the inception, the civilian aviation industry would never have even GOTTEN OFF THE GROUND! It’s time for the FAA to just get out of the way. So often, government agencies exert a “dark ages” force, impeding progress.”

    …and no one couldn’t have seen this coming?

    While our incrediable standard of living may have made us wealthier and happier than our barnstorming ancestors, it also has made us a bunch of risk-fearing hypochondriacs. We’re a nation that obsesses about the mental health effects of dodge ball, swing set safety, seat belt/crash helmet laws, and the bacterial count on restaurant seats. Do you really expect us to embrace commerical manned space flight?

    All it would take is for one of these things to go down with a load of affulent passengers and the government will scuttle the industry before the vehicle hits the ground. Not to mention the fact that the shysters would fall over themselves to file the first class action suit against the hypothectical space-line.

    Not only will the meek inheret the Earth, but they’re going to make damn sure that the brave are stuck on this rock with them.

  5. Good damn thing republicans are in office.

    HA!

  6. “Not to mention the fact that the shysters would fall over themselves to file the first class action suit against the hypothectical space-line.”

    Couldn’t a simple contract disavowing all of the people that made/flew the space craft of any responsibility take care of this? It seems to me the only thing one needs worry about are damages done to third parties.
    I do agree with you about the gov. though. You know they are chomping at the bit to reign in the commercial space industry before it can get too big to control.

  7. “Couldn’t a simple contract disavowing all of the people that made/flew the space craft of any responsibility take care of this? It seems to me the only thing one needs worry about are damages done to third parties.”

    Not if the politicians making the laws are lawyers (or receive campaign contributions from lawyers).

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t we talking about international airspace here? Does the US Gov’t even have the ability to govern here? (All current foreign policy jokes aside.)

    Or is it just that the take-offs and landings are in the US?

  9. I realize that regulation of commercial space travel will be inevitable, although I hope it’s slow in coming.

    What I wonder is which government will claim sovereignty over privately-funded Martian colonies.

  10. All it would take is for one of these things to go down with a load of affulent passengers

    As long as they all worked on Capitol Hill I wouldn’t mind.

    Does the US Gov’t even have the ability to govern here?

    No, they can’t govern here for shit, to say nothing for the mesosphere. But I think that because the ship has to pass through U.S. airspace, it falls under FAA jurisdiction until it hits 61 miles (?), then all bets are off. Bring out the hookers, spin up the roulette wheel, and give your kid a beer.

  11. What I wonder is which government will claim sovereignty over privately-funded Martian colonies.

    The U.S. of course. They’ve seen Total Recall, they know what those mutants can do.

  12. Although, and I apologize for threadjacking, it would be interesting to see in this day and age whether space flight financiers could threaten to take their business to a nation more open to relaxed regulations. We are all aware of the U.S. penchant for protectionism. Threaten their assumed status as first to commercialize space … bring it to Europe perhaps ? … and they might find a far more pliable Congress and FAA. We are a globalizing marketplace, and if our own government can’t realize the value of taking their hands off an emerging industry, then fuck ’em.

  13. If the FAA stands in the way of a functioning civilian space industry, then the only rational solution is to offshore the industry. Can you say “Mexico, Your Last Stop Before Orbit!”? I’m sure Mexico would be happy to lease a stretch of desert to a new, cutting edge industry.

    If not Mexico, there are dozens of other countries that would.

  14. “You know they are chomping at the bit to reign in the commercial space industry before it can get too big to control.”

    “Champing,” Ben, “champing.” And “rein” — not “reign.” Sorry to be the annoying nerd in the front row of the classroom, but sometimes it’s necessary to be the asshole who points out this sort of stuff.

    (The old Web etiquette against correcting others’ grammar and spelling was contrived by a handful of early Internet users who weren’t very good at grammar and spelling. [Darn good at math, though, that bunch.])

  15. Anybody remember “The Man Who Sold The Moon” by Robert Heinlein? Pretty sure it was written pre-NASA, if not pre-FAA. The premise, if I recall, was that property rights in some glorious capitalistic past meant when one bought land, he owned a chunk of property extending from the earth’s core outward into infinity. The wealthy, P.T. Barnumesque hero thereby tried to buy up all the land directly beneath the orbit of the moon, or some such, in order to claim sole title to it.

    Seems so incredibly naive now…

  16. “If the FAA stands in the way of a functioning civilian space industry, then the only rational solution is to offshore the industry.”

    Under current arms export regulations this is impossible for US citizens. All activities of US citizens are covered by ITAR, no matter where. Any spaceflight company attempting to go overseas will face severe sanctions, possibly including imprisonment for the principals. These regulations also cover export of devices which will be brought back to the US after use.

    The only way forward is to work with congress and the FAA to try to bring the regulatory system into line with what’s appropriate for the next generation of spacecraft.

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