Going Boldly Where No Congress Has Gone

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Commercial Space Bill Passes...

A stroke of the president's pen will launch the era of commercial passenger space flight. The Senate, with only minutes remaining in the legislative session that adjourned Wednesday, passed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act. Assuming President Bush signs it, the controversial legislation will not only allow paying passengers in space, it will make it easier for companies to experiment with and test vehicles to get through what space policy consultant James Muncy calls "the 21st-century equivalent of the barnstorming era." Although the bill, on the surface, enjoyed wide public and political support, there was intense back-room politicking leading up to its final passage. Some members of Congress wanted more safety provisions for passengers built in while others thought it too restrictive on the companies trying to put a toehold in the new market. In the end, it passed unanimously in a package of unrelated legislation presented as the Senate was preparing to wrap up the session. Had it not passed, proponents would have had to reintroduce it in the next session, delaying the development of the industry, which now hopes to launch its first customers in 2007.