...Passengers Accept The Risk

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Now, what's all this mean to you, the well-heeled adventurer type? Essentially, if you decide to invest $200,000 or more in the ultimate adventure ride, you accept the possibility that it might be your last thrill and there will be no legal recourse for those you left on the ground (theoretically). Even multi-billionaire Richard Branson, who is hoping to inaugurate commercial space flight using Burt Rutan-designed equipment in 2007, doesn't have the money to defend lawsuits that would arise from the first ... private ... space crash. Eliminating liability for passenger safety was considered an essential element of the legislation. Less obvious, but just as important, is a section on experimentation. Under current rules, someone trying to break into the space business must meet virtually all the licensing and permit requirements of a fully functional spaceship before it can launch any experimental flights. Under the bill, as long as there are no paying customers aboard, the pre-launch criteria are significantly relaxed, saving time and money for would-be space racers. "This one element is the major cost-saving aspect of the proposed legislation, and it is hugely significant for many small businesses that want to test new vehicle concepts," Nathan Horsely, an attorney specializing in space law, wrote in The Space Review. There's also no limit on the number of experimental flights permitted under the new rules.