Confining Space

Regulating space travel


As the prospect of space tourism looms on the distant horizon, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stands ready to regulate. The agency has handed down the first 120-odd pages of regulations for any private space tourism endeavor, setting the stage for an expansion of the agency's reach into spaceflight.

What kinds of things does the FAA seek to mandate? Common-sense stuff such as passenger consent forms, on-board life support back-up systems, and something to hold the luggage. Really.

"The FAA proposes to require an operator to make provisions for restraint or stowage of all individuals and objects in a cabin, so moving objects would not interfere with the flight crew's operation of the vehicle during flight," the agency says. This is part of the "human factors engineering" the agency identifies as crucial to successful flight.

The agency would do well to keep in mind that risk is also an essential part of space exploration. Its first pass at regulation bogs down in minutiae that would sap the spirit of a Sherpa, let alone would-be space adventurers.