He Told Us Not to Blow it, Cuz He Thinks it's All Worthwhile

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Now that private space tourism is finally around the corner, what's Washington's contribution? Hint—it's 120 pages long.

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  1. Is there a synopsis of the 120 pages?

    And why couldn’t space tourism companies just require their clients to sign the world’s longest waiver? Everybody knows it’s risky. Why stop willing risk takers from boldly going where few have gone before?

  2. thoreau, check out Space Law Probe for a summary and more analysis of the notice of proposed rulemaking. I don’t think there’s a lot there on the proposed FAA regulations just yet, but I’m sure the blog will add plenty of information on the topic in the days to come. The final rule may be quite different from what’s been proposed–I expect a boatload of comments on this one.

    Without reading the proposed rule at all, my understanding is that the FAA is fairly supportive of the private space ventures, so I’d imagine that the rule will provide for favorable treatment of informed consent waivers, etc. Though that’s just a guess on my part.

    I want to be a space lawyer when grow up.

  3. Synopsis: There will be no private, commercial space travel in this century.

  4. Neil, Thoreau,
    I work for one of the companies that is directly affected by this regulation. I haven’t read through the whole thing yet, but it really isn’t as bad as it looks. There will be pricate commercial space travel this century, maybe even this decade. Congress has already decided to give the AST authority in this matter, and once an NPRM is released, the actual rule will be released whether we like it or not. So the best thing to do is to make comments so that the final rule is as simple, low-maintenance, common-sense, and unharmful to business as possible. So far most of what I’ve read is stuff similar to what any realistic space company would want to do anyway to cover its backside. While there are some suggestions we’re going to make (mostly of the form of “how can we make this even lower hassle, easier to comply with while still protecting uninvolved third parties”), this really isn’t the heinous industry breaker you guys seem to think it is.
    ~Jon

  5. I can’t comment on the rule since I haven’t read it, but my instinct is that Mr. Goff is probably correct, if for no other reason than the public has proven to be quite enthralled with private manned space ventures and would react poorly to anything too insanely bureaucratic that inhibited such ventures. Of course, the flip side is that if Virgin Galactic crashed a suborbital vehicle in St. Louis, some people might be upset if there was no clear liability for such an event. I expect the FAA to be pretty cautious when it comes to protecting people without informed consent and to say, “Enjoy your flaming death” to those who give informed consent. Not that I expect flaming death from these private ventures, I hasten to add.

    If you want to read and make comments on the rule, Space Law Probe points to this site for guidance on how to do so.

  6. Is there a synopsis of the 120 pages?

    That is the synopsis.

  7. Thanks for the perspective, Jonathan.

    At least in principle I’m fine with laws that prevent harm to people who didn’t sign waivers. I’d hate to see the space spa crash into a levee and flood New Orleans all over again. I hear that they were eating babies in the Superdome! 🙂

    (just kidding, I know that was an urban legend)

  8. Nice Bowie reference.

  9. Of course, the flip side is that if Virgin Galactic crashed a suborbital vehicle in St. Louis, some people might be upset if there was no clear liability for such an event.

    How would it be any different from Delta crashing a regular plane in St. Louis?

    RC–Were you kidding about this being the synopsis? Please tell me you were kidding.

  10. I think space tourism is fine and dandy, but shouldn’t we solve our tourism problems here on Earth first?

  11. Government regulation and subsidies in aerospace are the reason it’s taken until 2004 to get a single private, manned vehicle into space. The first 50 years of aviation were incredibly productive; changes in regular airplanes today are hindered at every step by the regulatory state. There will be no “first 50 years” of space travel like the era that defined earthly aerospace.

    It’s nice that there technically isn’t supposed to be any regulation by the FAA for the first 8 years of private space travel, but they’ll creep in as much as possible, and I believe that each new reg will create a non-linear reduction in innovation.

    My synopsis at the Mackinac Center here.

  12. thoreau, the Associated Press article on this has a summary for you. I’m sure it’s nothing approaching a thorough analysis, but it hits the high points. The devil is in the details, but the basic points mentioned in the summary don’t sound too bad. Now, I’m a fan of freedom of contract, and if people want to walk into a dangerous situation–assuming they are truly getting the facts about the risks they are taking–that should be all that we need, but the reality is, things like this tend to get regulated. Oh, well.

    I’m more upset that bureaucratic nonsense has kept Florida from being the private space port d’jour, which, of course, it should be. The launches would be over sea, not over populated land, we have been doing it here for decades, we have the companies and personnel in place to support launches, and we can tie in launches with a Disney package 🙂 I met Winston Scott, the head of the Florida Space Authority, and he seemed pretty frustrated with the state and the federal government’s lack of support for attracting private space efforts to the Sunshine State. To give Captain Scott credit, he seemed plenty excited about it (I met him right after Scaled Composites won the X-Prize).

  13. Incidentally, all of my “not that bad” talk is relative. I tend to agree with Mr. Block that bureaucratic creep may cause some problems down the road. I’d love to see what Virgin, Paul Allen, etc. could do if allowed to operate without unreasonable red tape. Too much to hope for, I suppose, especially when there are agencies and private corporations who have a vested interest in the status quo.

  14. Remember, NASA, like any beauracracy, must preserve its own existence first and formost. Therefore they will create reams and reams of documents leading up to what ever streamlined (or not) rule is adopted.

    NASA was not setup to function as a regulator agency (like the FAA), so they will have to stumble towards an ill defined goal set by Congress.

  15. Another summary, this time with nifty bullet points.

  16. Just read the summary Pro Libertate linked to.

    I know it’s stupid, but honestly, I’m shocked that people are actually paid to write shit that is so patently obvious.

    “Atmosphere: Oxygen and carbon dioxide in spacecraft have to be kept at a safe level, as well as the temperature and circulation of the spacecraft’s atmosphere. To prevent situations such as windows fogging up, humidity would also have to be fairly low.”

    Well, no shit, Sherlock. I kinda doubt that Burt Rutan and Richard Branson were planning on launching space vehicles that were unable to maintain cabin pressure.

  17. I think space tourism is fine and dandy, but shouldn’t we solve our tourism problems here on Earth first?

    The only tourism problems I’ve ever had were the result of government action. So far, there isn’t a problem with that in space. But I’m sure the FAA will do their best.

  18. I think space tourism is fine and dandy, but shouldn’t we solve our tourism problems here on Earth first?

    Comment of the day!

  19. Thank you, thank you. I believe that’s the 3rd or 4th such nomination I’ve had over the years. Not that I’m counting.

  20. Sphynx,
    NASA has nothing to do with the writing or enforcing of this regulation. That is handled by the AST (which is part of the FAA). I’ve personally met several of the people in the AST. They’re smart, competent, reasonable, and most importantly they understand that if they strangle the industry they’re out of a job too! You can’t license an activity that you’ve made impossible to carry out.

    As another commenter mentioned, most of these regulations are just common sense. More importantly, even though I’d prefer to live in a world where all such issues were handled via 100% market-based methods (and I think that there are probably ways that they could be handled quite well without government regulation), we don’t live in that world. The US has treaty obligations that it is bound to fulfill, and short of pulling out of those treaties and rewriting the law (good luck), regulation of space flight is something we’re just going to have to deal with.

    As much as I prefer a non-regulatory approach, that isn’t an option at this point, so I’m all for trying to work with the guys (and gals) at AST to make sure they don’t write anything stupid that we wouldn’t be doing anyway to protect our investments.

    Does that make me a sellout? I dunno.

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