The Next Challenges For The Next Step Toward Space...

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Space Travel Faces Next Wave Of Regulation...

Last week on Capitol Hill, the nascent "alternative space industry" barely deflected a potential meltdown -- a bill that was written to help boost space tourism came within hours of being passed with a new provision that some say would have killed the whole idea. In its original form, the legislation would have allowed paying passengers to fly into space as long as they were fully informed about the risks and signed a consent form. But during House-Senate negotiations, the bill was amended to charge the FAA with responsibility for the "safety of crew and spaceflight participants." Rick Tumlinson, founder of the Space Frontier Foundation, told National Public Radio's Science Friday last week, "What was going to happen was, some Senate staffers who didn't really know what was going on had put a little clause in there that would have basically said that the FAA is totally responsible for the safety of anybody riding in these rockets. In other words, you could be in a situation where you couldn't even basically sign away your rights, like you would if you go skiing." If faced with such a responsibility, and liability, it's unlikely the FAA could approve any passenger flights in the near future.

XCOR President Jeff Greason, who is working to build a rocket plane that can fly off a runway, told MSNBC, "No one in their right mind would suggest that in the first 10 or 20 years we're going to reach levels of safety in the vehicle that are indistinguishable from the safety of being on the ground. The only way we're going to learn how to be safe is to get out there and fly." The original bill notes that "space transportation is inherently risky," while the amended version adds this phrase: "but the industry should be held to the highest standards of safety when transporting humans." The bill was yanked at the last minute after objections arose. For now it's on hold, but it still may be renegotiated and resurface later this year for a vote. Tumlinson said supporters of space tourism should contact their Senators, especially if they're on the Commerce Committee, and tell them they support the House version of the bill, which would allow people to take the risks and fly in space without being overly regulated. If the correct version is passed, it "would be a real boon," Tumlinson said, "because some people are holding back on investing until they know what the regulatory environment's like."