Blog author: jballor
by on Monday, January 2, 2006

As the newly-burgeoning field of space tourism takes the first steps towards reality, elements of the federal government are already pushing for stringent regulation. In a 60 Minutes report last night, the Ansari X Prize, “an extraordinary competition created in 1996 to stimulate private investment in space,” has spawned the new space race. This new field is “a race among private companies and billionaire entrepreneurs to carry paying passengers into space and to kick-start a new industry, astro tourism.”

Space: The Final Frontier

Part of the X Prize credo states the following: “We believe that spaceflight should be open to all — not just an elite cadre of government employees or the ultra-rich. We believe that commercial forces will bring spaceflight into a publicly affordable range.” I have argued previously that the developments in space travel should be recognized by Christians as a confirmation of “the significance of our solar system as a responsibility and blessing for human stewardship.”

Out of recognition of the possibilities for human flourishing represented by private spaceflight, Wired News reports about legislation that was made law last year, allowing the industry to develop “without too much government interference prohibits the Federal Aviation Administration from issuing safety regulations for passengers and crew for eight years, unless specific design features or operating practices cause a serious or fatal injury.”

The idea is essentially the opposite of some applications of the so-called precautionary principle, the idea that something must be proven to be safe before the public can make use of it. The FAA acknowledges that the instituted law instead gives the regulatory body an “informed consent” role to “encourage, facilitate, and promote” private space travel in a way that emphasizes safety. According to newly proposed regulations, “This means that the FAA has to wait for harm to occur or almost occur before it can impose restrictions, even against foreseeable harm. Instead, Congress requires that space flight participants be informed of the risks.”

This set of proposed FAA regulations (PDF) was released last Thursday, comprising what appear to be advisory regulations intended to provide information to the purveyors and consumers of space travel. According to the document summary, “The requirements are designed to provide an acceptable level of safety to the general public, and to notify individuals on board of the risks associated with a launch or reentry.”

Comments about the proposed regulations can be submitted until February 27, 2006. Given the eight-year window referred to in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, it seems that even if these regulations are set by the June 23, 2006 deadline, they would not go into effect until 2012.

On another note, G4 (the videogame TV network) has added reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation to its schedule, beginning with an 8-hour marathon on January 8.


  • http://novosolaria.blogspot.com/ Christian Schade

    We need to make sure that some independent space exploration enabling technologies are developed, in order to make sure that not one or a set of governments or elite groups will dominate the colonization of Space.

    The escape from Earth is our ticket to survival in the long run. Tis is why regulation of space technologies should be reduced to a minimum. There is no equivalent of the combustion engine in space tech today, but that is what is needed if we reaaly wamt to make Space our own. Something that is cheap, can be boight or built easily, can use an independent energy supply and that eventually can be managed by non-specialists (undoubtedly with the intense aid of computers.)

    An example could be an electrically powered gravitic drive with fuel cells. Can such a technology be developed outside massive government projects? We seem to believe that it is impossible, that you *must* have multi-billion-dollar research project to develop new space tech – the Ansari X prize points in a slightly diferent direction.

    In any case governments should not attempt to hamper such developments, in fact they should incourage them, since they will unlock a new chapter of prosperity for all, should they succeed.

  • http://blog.acton.org/index.html?/archives/900-If-You-Believe-They-Put-a-Man-on-the-Moon....html Acton Institute PowerBlog

    Next stop…Last week, it was reported that NASA’s budget is so thin that it puts “America’s leadership in scientific research is at risk.” (Last year’s NASA budget was around $16 billion, give or take a few hundred million.)