Space

"We're Going to Kill Some People"

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The Federal Aviation Administration has no power to regulate the nascent private space travel industry until 2012, and seemed oddly cheerful about it at a recent conference of air and space lawyers:

"We're going to kill some people," says Tracey Knutson, a lawyer who has advised the FAA and who moderated a panel discussion on the topic. "The question is how the relationship then changes."

Laura Montgomery, senior attorney in the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel, said once somebody dies, "we then have the authority to act and we would." Until then, Congress "told us to keep our mitts off."

The background:

In the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, Congress told the FAA to treat the industry more like an adventure business than an air carrier. The law protects the rights of those who wish to be among the first private citizens to go into space — likening them to visionaries and adventurers who knowingly take other risks like climbing mountains — while giving the people who operate the new types of unproven spacecraft the scientific latitude to learn from their first fatal mistakes.

"This is an ultra-hazardous business," [said] Patti Grace Smith, the FAA's associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

Read about recent on-the-ground deaths–not enough to provoke the regulatory wrath of the FAA–here.

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  1. “We’re Going to Kill Some People”

    Truest words every spoken by a bureaucrat.

  2. So, if the FAA gets involved when somebody “gets killed”, why not a higher level that gets involved when somebody gets killed under the FAA’s watch?

  3. They are promoting an industry expected to suffer deadly accidents instead of applying strict safety rules.

    Yes, because it is soooooo in the industry’s best interests to kill people.

  4. It makes sense – you wouldn’t want to stifile innovation by regulating a hazardous start-up industry only patronized by wealthy people who know what they’re getting into, but at the same time at some point if commercial space flight takes off (NPI) then it will need regulation to protect the safety and economic interests of the customers.

    KMW seems to have only posted this because of the way “We’re going to kill some people” can be taken out of context.

  5. The easy comeback would be to point out that quite a few people have gotten killed in government-built and operated spaceships. But I’m not going to say it.

  6. Dan T,

    Are you implying that future customers wont know what they’re getting into?

    Everyone but the wealthy is dumb?

  7. Mike,

    But I’m not going to say it.

    Im not going to say that a private company wouldnt risk sending a teacher up as a PR move on a craft that the safety experts said would catastrophically fail once in 75 flights (which turns out to be almost exactly right). Much less do it again.

  8. I think the FAA has been saying for a while now that, “You can go kill yourself on one of these crazy rockets if you want, but we’re going to mess everyone up if anyone who didn’t sign on gets hurt.” For instance, if a rockets crashes into, say, downtown Wichita.

  9. If the FAA gets control of Space Travel, you might as well send the Indians and Chinese a letter saying “the rest of the Universe is all yours.”

    People are going to get killed. You can’t nanny-ize pioneering and expect to be out front.

    If “Her Hispanic Majesty’s Federal Oceanic Administration” had been in charge in 1492, the dominant languages of North America would be Iroquois, Cherokee, Aztec, Cree and Souix.

  10. If “Her Hispanic Majesty’s Federal Oceanic Administration” had been in charge in 1492, the dominant languages of North America would be Iroquois, Cherokee, Aztec, Cree and Souix.

    Some would say that you just made the case for regulation of travel.

    🙂

  11. It makes sense – you wouldn’t want to stifile innovation by regulating a hazardous start-up industry only patronized by wealthy people who know what they’re getting into,

    Ah. So, rich people are smarter than the rest of us.

    Dare I even take a wild guess at what your yearly income is?

  12. Everyone but the wealthy is dumb?

    So, rich people are smarter than the rest of us.

    Silly people, the FAA doesn’t think only the rich are smart, and neither do the posters here! You’re thinking of the SEC.

  13. “We’re going to kill some people,” says Tracey Knutson, a lawyer who has advised the FAA and who moderated a panel discussion on the topic. ”

    Well the non-private sector space travel agency (NASA) has killed some people already.

    Does that mean NASA should be put under the rule of the FAA?

  14. thoreau

    You have a point.

    😉

  15. I think the FAA has been saying for a while now that, “You can go kill yourself on one of these crazy rockets if you want, but we’re going to mess everyone up if anyone who didn’t sign on gets hurt.” For instance, if a rockets crashes into, say, downtown Wichita.

    But even that is no excuse for government regulation. It’s the responsibility of the people of Wichita and everywhere else to purchase “falling private spacecraft” insurance.

  16. I’m taking up a collection to put Dannie Boy in the nose-cone of the first test flight.
    Won’t you help? Dial 1-800-DIPSHIT.
    That’s 1-800-DIPSHIT.
    Call One Eight-hundred D-I-P-S-H-I-T.

  17. No, Dan T. It is the responsibility of the Company who sent the rocket up to buy “Our Rocket Just Clipped ” Insurance.

  18. “But even that is no excuse for government regulation. It’s the responsibility of the people of Wichita and everywhere else to purchase “falling private spacecraft” insurance.”

    I have a feeling that this scenario rightly falls squarely into the lap of tort law… which doesn’t require any new government regulations.

  19. Come on, I was trying to be libertarian with that last comment. Anything is better than government regulation, right? People need to take responsibility for themselves instead of thinking this “civilization” thing is going to help them out any!

  20. “Our Rocket Just Clipped A Previously Unknown Wichita Landmark” Insurance.

    Is there some valuable, would-be-missed-by-thousands style landmark in Wichita?

  21. Yes, peDanTic, there is no need for regulation if the companies are insured and bonded, like any other industry (cruise lines, hot air ballon rides, petting zoos, etc.)

  22. No, Dan T. It is the responsibility of the Company who sent the rocket up to buy “Our Rocket Just Clipped ” Insurance.

    Yes, let’s hope that they freely choose to do that.

  23. Why wouldn’t they? Their clients are admittedly going to be rich enough to afford the cost of lofting mass into orbit, which is about $15,000/kilo right now. (No fat chicks)

    What happens if Richard Bransons trans-world balloon levels some village when it fails? These questions have been answered in the past.

  24. ed, Dangerman

    Chill on Dan T.

    If he makes us examine our assumptions or think through the consequences of what we do, he’s useful. Calling him names is not an argument. If the underlying assumptions of what he says are absolutely outrageous, ignore him.

    I actually agreed with him the other day on the Drug Laws thread, so wonders do happen.

  25. Actually, there’s always the injunction in Libertopia.

  26. Really, the argument for regulation applies when space travel so common that large numbers of people are able to do it. People are going to demand that the government enforce some safety standards as it’s better to avoid an accident than sue somebody after it’s happened, especially if it involves hundreds of passengers.

  27. Dan T. | October 18, 2007, 4:34pm | #

    Really, the argument for regulation applies when space travel so common that large numbers of people are able to do it. People are going to demand that the government enforce some safety standards as it’s better to avoid an accident than sue somebody after it’s happened, especially if it involves hundreds of passengers.

    The fallacy here is twofold:
    1) There is an assumption that a Regulatory Authority can foresee every hazard.
    2) There is an assumption that the Regulators will not become ‘captive’ to the industry in question, protecting existing companies from liability and competition. (See Friedman on a concentrated vs. diffuse interest)

    Even if neither occurs, there is still the problem that a Regulatory Authority tends to become “risk averse” to the point of stifling innovation that would improve safety or reduce cost.

  28. it’s better to avoid an accident than sue somebody after it’s happened, especially if it involves hundreds of passengers

    yeah, dan, i’m uh gonna have to go ahead and, sort of call you on the either/or fallacy here.

    but seriously you need to consider the costs and unintended consequences of said regulations, e.g. how much of our resources are going to wasted, activities poorly incentivized, state power expanded, etc, in relation to these so called ‘avoidable’ accidents

  29. and Aresen is much more precise & erudite than i am.

  30. it’s better to avoid an accident than sue somebody after it’s happened

    It’s ALSO better for a company to avoid an accident than to be sued after it’s happened, which is why regulation doesn’t necessarily help and sometimes interferes with the process by protecting companies instead of protecting consumers.
    But what do I know? I make less than $30k a year, so I must not be very smart.

  31. Aresen, I have yet to aim any kind of ed-caliber nasty at DanT. His statement directly before mine was pedantic, and I called it like that. I don’t mind a dissenting voice, even if I wish there were more than 2 around here, so they could take turns getting beat down 🙂 Unfortunately, I think that Dan has gotten so used to being mocked that he isn’t trying as hard to make a legitimate point that would make me question my assumptions. And, he and joe are wayyyy preferable to edward, IMHO. At least they can take it and come back next time without much whining.

  32. Ed:
    That was fucking hilarious.
    Is that 1-800-DIPSHIT donation tax-deductible?

  33. Also, who knows more about this kind of space flight than the Company who is doing it? How would the Regulatory Boobs know what was acceptable and what wasn’t? I can see a rule regarding overflying populated areas, for example, but eventually that is going to be everywhere, and anyhow, the next step in this direction is sub-orbital travel, not orbital flight to a station. What regulations do you think they would impose?

  34. And here I was reading her comment as more of a ‘Well, we can’t get you for anything now, but put one foot wrong and we’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks!”

  35. I just love the royal “we” from the FAA adviser. What, Tracey Knutson and the mouse in her pocket are gonna start whacking space travelers? No? Then the “we” is totally inappropriate. The people involved may kill someone eventually, but that ain’t a “we” moment unless you’re a principal.

    “This is an ultra-hazardous business,”

    Based on what, exactly? The fabulous safety record racked up by NASA and the Soviets? I dunno, so far Scaled Composites mission safety record is perfect. Gee, somebody who’s trying to attract paying customers might just have thought about safety a wee tad bit and tried to make it not “ultra-hazardous”.

  36. As a business attorney, I can say the question I get all the time from companies is: how can we do this and not get sued? (to which I answer any jackass can sue you no matter what). The next question is, okay then, how can we make sure we win the suit? Businesses are not afraid of their regulatory agency (and, yes, they ALL have a regulatory agency). They know they can lobby and control those guys.

    Private tort law has saved many more lives than the Gubmint.

  37. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

    or

    “You may have escaped us this time, private space industry! But when someone gets killed, we’ll see who has the last laugh! Ah, HA HA HA HA HA!”

  38. The Extispicator,

    That depends on the regulatory agency and the regulations. Try worrying about Do-Not-Call rules as enforced by the FTC.

  39. he and joe are wayyyy preferable to edward, IMHO. At least they can take it and come back next time without much whining.

    Come to think of it, I haven’t seen edward’s daily “You guys are all morons and I’m going away and never posting again” post for a couple of days.

    🙂

  40. Aresen – Dan T can sometimes serve a useful purpose. I actually recall threads where he questioned people about their beliefs in a useful way, e.g., made them think about why they think the way they do. He was the 7-up untroll on those threads, a true devil’s advocate in the best sense of the phrase.

    When he starts in with his jerk-off “government = civilization” crap, however, he is not being useful, he’s being a jackass. Unless, of course, he considers the Khmer Rouge or the Stalinist USSR the height of human civilization, in which case he is something much, much worse than a jackass.

  41. Dangerman & Aresen – yes, on his worst day, he (and joe) are better than Edwarrrrdddddoooo!!!!, if for no other reason than they both possess a sense of humor.

  42. Is that 1-800-DIPSHIT donation tax-deductible?

    Yes! I mean no! I cannot be responsible.
    Consult a reputable attorney.

  43. Tell that to the widows of the Challenger astronauts your filthy paper pusher.

  44. So some regulatory measures when space flights become more popular and sold to the public is bad, but one lawsuit putting one of these ‘new frontier’ companies out of business for good is better? Methinks there has to be a happy medium where if I’m riiiiiich and want to develop a space flight just for me the FAA can take a flying leap, but if I’m selling to the public there is aome oversight at some stage to put the breaks on any overzealous lawsuits. “Frivolous Space Flight Lawsuit Insurance” notwithstanding.

  45. It’s ALSO better for a company to avoid an accident than to be sued after it’s happened

    I’m not sure this is always true. Is it just folklore that Ford was aware of the possibility that the Pinto would fail dangerously but calculated (miscalculated, in this particular example) that damages from any resulting lawsuits would be less costly than a design change to correct the flaw?

  46. I don’t know if Ford did make such a calculation, but I blieve that such calculations are quite common.

    If any accident will have limited publicity that won’t cause a drop-off in business, then such a calculation makes sens, and I believe that it provides an input into the maintenance practices of Rent-a-truck outfits like U-Haul.

    However, an accident that gets massive publicity can end a business. So airlines don’t calculate an “acceptable” rate of accidents because there isn’t one. In fact, they have to bend over backward to avoid even the appearance of negligence. Look at poor Mcdonald Douglass who were put out of business by the crash of that DC-10 in Chicago despite the fact that the airline’s poor maintenance practices caused the crash.

  47. “”””We’re going to kill some people,” says Tracey Knutson, a lawyer who has advised the FAA and who moderated a panel discussion on the topic. “”””

    We already have, just ask school teacher Sally Ride.

  48. TrickyVic

    Sally Ride could certainly speak to the issue.

    But I beleive you are referring to Crista McCauliffe. (sp?)

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