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United States Space

Congress Plans Space Tourism Regulation 494

Posted by michael
from the long-arm-reaches-outer-space dept.
ackthpt writes "No new venture seems to escape some regulation, as is the case with the budding space tourism industry. As I piloted my personal groundcraft through pea-soup fog this morning (observing about half the others driving with lights off) CNN News mentioned impending regulation and legislation is on the way to govern commercial space transportation. Among concerns are safety of uninvolved public (to ensure boosters or other launch vehicle parts don't land on the unsuspecting public), assessing risk to passengers and level of fitness necessary to withstand the forces and conditions of spaceflight. Addressing such concerns are the FAA's office of commercial space transportation and the Commerce Department's Office of Space Commercialization and of course the US Congress."
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Congress Plans Space Tourism Regulation

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  • by krog (25663) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:24PM (#10462059) Homepage
    a wet blanket is thrown onto a gathering fire.

    I wonder how Congress will misregulate this industry (at least until it becomes rich enough to hire lobbyists).
  • Jurisdiction (Score:3, Insightful)

    by razmaspaz (568034) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:24PM (#10462062)
    What jurisdiction does Congress have in Space? Any? I can see how regulating our airspace is their jurisdiction, but our space?
  • by Flounder (42112) * on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:26PM (#10462085)
    And who's gonna bet that they'll require all private space flights be cleared through NASA, FAA, Homeland Defense, FBI, IRS, EPA, and DOJ?

    Commercial ventures are rendering a government agency irrelevant. Bureaucrats exist only to propagate themselves and ensure their job security. Back them into a corner, and they fight like pissed cats.

  • by Lurkingrue (521019) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:27PM (#10462089)
    Thank heavens we have a government that is taking rapid action to protect us from ourselves! So what if progress is impeded, or if this bolsters a poorly-run, short-sighted government space monopoly... At least we're SAFER this way. I mean, after all, someone needs to think of the children!

    I think Franklin was right about the whole "liberty for security" tradeoff. Unfortunately, the US has become the land of Sheep.
  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by krog (25663) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:27PM (#10462103) Homepage
    If you want to launch from America, you deal with the American Government.

    I'm sure plenty of companies will base themselves elsewhere for precisely this reason.
  • hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Triumph The Insult C (586706) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:27PM (#10462109) Homepage Journal
    s/Regulation/Tax/
  • bureaucracy lives (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shotgun (30919) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:29PM (#10462138)
    ...and like any living organism, the purpose of a bureaucracy is to grow, expand and reproduce.

    The FAA has done more to limit general aviation advancement (as opposed to big commercial carriers) than anything real could ever do. I make the distinction as GA is aviation for the common man, and commercial carriers are another large bureaucracy. Their certification processes insure that people who know nothing enforce rules that may not apply, and guarantee that a plane will not fly until it is outweighed by the paperwork. Any new development will be mostly ignored, as the cost of certification will likely never be recaptured.

    Now they want to limit a hand in space travel!?!
  • by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:30PM (#10462140) Homepage
    On the one hand, the small government crowd will say, "Let private industry do what it needs to do without all those regulations that tie people in knots trying to get things done. The government is too inefficient, and private industry is finally making great progress in the space area. Let them breathe!"

    On the other hand, you have to acknowledge that the private approach is typically to put profits first, last, and mostly in-between, and if that means cutting corners, well what's a few accidents? The problem, of course, is that the public ends up paying for those accidents. If a rocket causes environmental damage, people pay, court cases spring up, it's a mess. If the rocket folks cut corners in a way that somehow (I dunno how, I'm just saying) threatens public health, we, the public end up paying higher health insurance claims. There's an interconnectedness at work here.

    This is /., so we are sick of government interference in our high-tech toys. And they do go too far a lot of the time. But it's good to remember how far the private sector can go if there is no regulation whatsoever. A nice balance of corporate efficiency coupled with sensible public safety regulations would suit me. Let the rocket folks excel, but don't let them cause problems for the rest of us just because they put profits above all.

  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:30PM (#10462141)
    To get to "Space", you have to launch, presumably from this country, and have to fly through airspace, over this country. All easily under the jurisdiction of Congress.

    Once you're up there, it's a different story (international rules, perhaps). But get there first.

  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by compass46 (259596) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:30PM (#10462145)
    If you are launching from US soil through US airspace to reach space... Yes, they have jurisdiction over your launch site and path taken to reaching space which they may then use to regulate various things related to your travel.
  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_weasel (323320) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:31PM (#10462165) Homepage
    Your insane right?

    If you plan to launch a commercial space tourism effort from this country, of course it needs regulation. Would you prefer if any moron could claim to have a rocket and start tossing people up into space?

    Would you care when one of those morons built a rocket that came apart, killing everyone on board and raining down debris? You would certainly complain bitterly if it was one of your family on board, or if it was your house that was hit by debris.

    Your local travel agencty is subject to regulation to prevent the worst of the scammers from coming into/staying into existence. Airflight is regulated tightly to ensure travel is safe for those who fly as well as those on the ground.

    What made you think launching a ship of some sort into space would be subject to less regulation? If ytou plan to launch from N. American airspace, or operate your business from N. America, expect to be regulated.

    Regulation can be stifling - but it can also be necessary.

  • by Rei (128717) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:32PM (#10462179) Homepage
    Yeah... I mean, heaven forbid we try and stop people from dumping boosters on people's houses, or launching people on 6G-accel rockets with a 90% chance of killing their passengers without telling them of the risks.

    This is common sense stuff. Just because you hear the word "regulation" doesn't mean it's time to freak out. I'm thankful as hell that the airlines are regulated.
  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Random Web Developer (776291) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:33PM (#10462189) Homepage
    what jurisdiction does Congress have in the world?

    just launch from europe of russia or something and no Congress laws apply
  • by CdBee (742846) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:34PM (#10462207)
    1) Don't launch from the USA
  • by stomv (80392) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:36PM (#10462233) Homepage
    1. But I would want an aero agency (FAA, NASA, whatever) to regulate them while they're at risk of flying into something else, either in the Earth's atmosphere or outside of it. Wouldn't you?

    2. I'd also want regulations providing for insurance for third parties. If my house gets hit by a piece of RichGuysTourSpace LLC, I'd like it repaired please.

    3. Law enforcement? Absolutely. Merely being a passenger in a space-bound vehicle should require at least as much security as is forced upon the airlines. ID, bomb detection, etc.

    4. EPA? In the same sense that other vehicles (like airplanes and cruise ships) are monitored, yup. Don't go dumping excessive toxicities in the environment please.

    5. IRS? Only in the sense that all businesses gotta pay their fair share of taxes.

    It turns out that requiring (2) might force (1) and (3) a la the free market. After all, I'd expect a lower risk of loss if the flight plan was cross-checked, and if the passengers were safe. (4) and (5) wouldn't be treated any differently than other similar industries. Surely, it's the job of Congress to at least investigate the possible problems before the happen though...
  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Your_Mom (94238) <slashdot@noSPam.innismir.net> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:38PM (#10462250) Homepage
    Funny you should mention that, I was going through records back in 1910 and there was a congressional speech along the same lines.I quote:

    "Your(sic) insane right?

    If you plan to launch a commerical airline tourism effort from theis country, of course it needs regulation. Would you prefer if any moron could claim to have a rocket and start tossing people up into the air?

    Would you care when one of those morons built a airplane that came apart, killing everyone on board and raining down debris? You would certainly complain bitterly if it was one of your family on board, or if it was your house that was hit by debris.

    Your local travel agencty(sic) is subject to regulation to prevent the worst of the scammers from coming into/staying into existence. Railroad travel is regulated tightly to ensure travel is safe for those who travel as well as those are near the tracks.

    What made you think launching a ship of some sort into the air would be subject to less regulation? If ytou(sic) plan to launch from N. American airspace, or operate your business from N. America, expect to be regulated."


    All I can say thank God it didn't happen else we'd still be traveling on trains. *phew*
  • Move offshore..... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:38PM (#10462255)
    or to another country. Problem with shortsighted bumbling US bureaucrats solve. Net Assets by Carl Bussjaeger is a pretty good book on how far US bureaucracy can go in it's incompetence. After that you have space colonies and complete autonomy. Next Issue?
  • Did ANYONE rtfa? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dpilot (134227) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:39PM (#10462264) Homepage Journal
    Oops, this is /.

    From what I could tell, there were 2 main concerns:

    1: Uninvolved people on the ground shouldn't have to be any more concerned about debris raining down on them that they are, today. ie- they STAY uninvolved.

    2: Those who want to go up are fully informed of the risks. The operators can't hide information about their operational or maintenance records in order to make a sale.

    If initial regulations stick to those 2 points, I don't think its unreasonable, at all. For the forseeable future, I simply CAN'T fly on one, and I also DON'T want it falling on me, my loved ones, or my property. If I ever can afford to fly, I want to know the risks.
  • first post (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Free_Trial_Thinking (818686) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:42PM (#10462302)
    I vote against regulation of space tourism.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:42PM (#10462305)
    > Yeah... I mean, heaven forbid we try and stop people from dumping boosters on people's houses, or launching people on 6G-accel rockets with a 90% chance of killing their passengers without telling them of the risks.
    >
    > This is common sense stuff. Just because you hear the word "regulation" doesn't mean it's time to freak out. I'm thankful as hell that the airlines are regulated.

    If you drop a booster on my house, I'll sue you into the stone age.

    If your 6G rocket kills 90% of its passengers, and my 5G rocket kills 5% of its passengers, people will figure out the risks for themselves, and choose to fly on my rockets rather than yours, at least until you redesign your rocket to be safer than mine.

    There's a happy medium, but ultimately, this is also common sense stuff.

    Congress, you govern a very large economy. Can't you leave this little piece of it alone? Surely there must be something left that you can fuck up for lobbyist dollars than space tourism. Is the well of freedom truly that dry that you have to wipe out private space tourism when it's less than 72 hours old?

  • No worries (Score:3, Insightful)

    by peacefinder (469349) * <alan.dewitt@ g m a i l . com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:42PM (#10462306) Journal
    It doesn't really matter what the US Congress or FAA has to say about this. If they put reasonable regulations in place, that's great... everyone wins. If they put unreasonably restictive regulations on space tourism, the launch sites will simply move to a place with more friendly regulation. Maybe they'll end up flying out of Bolivia. So what?

    Virgin Galactic is talking about flights that cost $200,000 per passenger. Each passenger is buying a three day excursion including training and whatnot. Most would-be tourists will have to spend a least a day getting to Mojave and back.

    If they're looking at $200,000 and five days for the ride of a lifetime, the added time and expense of travelling to a country with a more reasonable regulatory environment is not very burdensome.

    Hopefully this will be sufficient incentive for the FAA and Congress to impose only reasonable regulations.
  • by pavon (30274) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:43PM (#10462313)
    I was at the XPrize launch, and they made some comments about this. I was only half listening, but the impression I got was that they (Scaled, Xprize, etc) were in favor of this.

    There are legitimate concerns surrounding space travel, and some regulation is needed to address those. Given this, potential investors are reluctant to invest their money when they know that some sort of regulations will exist, but do not know what they will be or how they will effect the ventures they are funding. Burt Rutan has been working with the FAA and OSC from day one and they have been very supportive of his effort. He is wants to get get these regulations out on the table and nailed down as soon as possible, so that the transition from experimental space flight to commercial space flight can begin.
  • Re:Taxes too! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HermesHuang (606596) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:43PM (#10462315)
    Just like it's quite valid to have the FAA to make sure we don't have drunk pilots flying a 747 into a high school, I think it's quite valid to put some regulations on any space vehicles a company wants to launch. It'd make people feel a bit safer if they know that some third party (in this case the government, which is reasonably trustworthy on these things) has made some sort of inspection of a rocket saying that unless something goes horribly wrong it won't be dropping a tail fin into your living room.

    The article and gist of the original posting to Slashdot is that there are regulations (nominally safety ones, we'll see if that's the same in a few years) that the government is putting (and has already had) in place to ensure peoples' safety around these vehicles which will be dropping from 100km above the ground. I don't recall any mention of taxes.

    Back to the FAA. Its rules may be a bit outdated, and it might be a big dinosaur of a bureacracy now, but it's there to make air travel safe. It's there so that when I'm shopping for airline tickets I don't have to wonder whether United Airlines has been maintaining its airliners correctly so it won't fall apart the next time a hard landing happens. Yes, the FAA taxes airports. But the money to run a national air traffic network and to hire and pay thousands of inspectors has to come from somewhere.

    You keep your government conspiracy theories. I'd still rather have the safety regulations then not.
  • A sane voice! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Telex4 (265980) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:44PM (#10462326) Homepage
    Thank goodness someone can resist the kneejerk libertarian cry against Government involvement. Of course it's good that someone regulates this.

    Why?

    To ensure basic passenger safety; to ensure that they can cover themselves with insurance; to ensure that the vehicles don't destroy the environment more than they should; to ensure that commisioned flights aren't turned into effective kamikaze weapons.

    There are all kinds of considerations here that would either require the industry to establish a credible self-regulatory body, for a citizen's association to establish credible certification body, or for Government to step in and regulate it. Now how many industries regulate themselves honestly and scrupulously? How many consumer association bodies have the power to bring down corporate malpractice? The void has to be filled by Government.

    It's not the nanny state, nor is it beurocratic cronyism. It's protecting the nation from a bloody-minded selfish few.

    Of course, the state can be a bad regulator, as US institutions often are, but that's another matter.
  • by DeepHurtn! (773713) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:45PM (#10462337)
    I mean, isn't it kind of a *good* idea to have some regulatory oversight whenever giant rockets and both private and public safety is involved? Would you *really* want the government to not regulate, say, aircraft and cars at all?

    Sometimes this "when will the gubbmint get off our backs!" mentality just strikes me as being too dogmatic, not too mention simplistic. Besides, oversight like this can be a *good* thing for the companies involved. Establishing trusted, industry-wide standards for safety can go a long way towards legitimizing a new industry in the eyes of the public.

  • by CrazyDwarf (529428) <michael.rodman@gmail.com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:48PM (#10462369) Homepage
    Yeah... I mean, heaven forbid we try and stop people from dumping boosters on people's houses, or launching people on 6G-accel rockets with a 90% chance of killing their passengers without telling them of the risks

    Uhm... is it currently legal to drop boosters on people's houses? Won't existing laws cover that?
  • Unneeded rhetoric (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Picass0 (147474) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @02:52PM (#10462413) Homepage Journal
    Besides your over the top sarcasm, perhaps you'd understand how that government could easily hit Scaled with regulations from 15 different agencies, often with contradictory rules. The burden of such rules are difficult enough for many large airlines to deal with.

    How would you like to be a start-up and have union labor forced on you? The FAA could do this to Scaled. Pilots, flight crew, airport personel, Baggage handlers, checkpoint inspectors, ground crews - all are union labor, all would be subject to seperate contract negotiations.

    Every airline and airplane manufacturer has lobbyists to help defend them against the ever present tide of Washington and it's new laws. Scaled will probably need one at some point.

    The 2 largest airlines in the US are borderline bankrupt at this time. The cost of operations, high fuel prices, and new security measures is too great to fully add to the price of tickets.

    I imagine this is why Scaled is anxious to form a partnership with Virgin. Perhaps they can piggyback on Virgin's contracts to solve some of these problems.

    Fine headaches for a bunch of guys who just want to go into space. Yeah, I don't want a fuel tank falling through my roof. I also see where a small company could choke under the burden of thousands of pages of regulation.
  • How many? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eminence (225397) <akbrandt@ g m a i l .com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:00PM (#10462504) Homepage
    I wonder... how many employees of various government agencies there are, eager to regulate space tourism, but I bet they highly outnumber the space tourists. Especially since most of them actually departed from Russia.
  • Unnecessary evil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp AT freeshell DOT org> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:04PM (#10462553) Homepage Journal
    We have such a guideline: any company that lets someone die because the risks are unneccessarily high will be sued into oblivion.

    Companies could go about their business entirely unregulated by the government, and consumers can feel safe - secure in the knowledge that if anything horrible happens someone's gonna pay dearly for it.

    Out of self-interest alone companies will make sure their stuff is safe.
  • by fmaxwell (249001) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:06PM (#10462573) Homepage Journal
    Once again the Government thinks (without any poling of the populice of whom they are supposed to represent) they need to step in and save us from ourselves.

    So we are supposed to poll idiots about their ideas of proper regulation of space travel? Many of these potential pollees are the same people who think that "nuk-u-lar" reactors can blow up like atomic bombs, that the government has performed autopsies on extraterrestrials, and that the moon landings were faked. I'd much rather have congressional reps hearing from experts than to have them conduct exit polls at the local tractor pull.
  • Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sbeitzel (33479) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:06PM (#10462582) Homepage Journal
    So, you don't think that requiring automobile drivers to pass a (very) basic skill and knowledge test (the passing of which a driver's license is proof) is a good idea? You reckon that anyone who wants to should be able to drive a car, whether they are able to do so safely or not? And the solution to their fuckups is to sue them?

    Oh, wait! Even better! Anyone who wants to should be able to build any damn thing and drive it around on the road, no matter what kind of foul emissions it spews and no matter what kind of performance profile it's got.

    Yeeeehaww! Fire up the lawnmower engine on the Radio Flyer, forget about putting brakes or turn signals on it, and screw the vehicle code - it's not a law, it's just a set of suggestions for other people.

    And the traffic jams, the incidental damage, the injuries and deaths -- those are not really the problem of society, they're your fault specifically and it's up to the victims individually to track you down and get some kind of redress.

    Bullshit.

    I and a bunch of other voters have decided that our common good is served when we stop asshats from doing whatever fool thing pops into their putative minds. Regulation and enforcement are a good idea.
  • by jfengel (409917) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:10PM (#10462623) Homepage Journal
    I'm just worried that the way they will regulate it will make it impossible. I can easily see them mandating equipment to prevent boosters from falling on people's houses even though they're shooting from the Mojave desert and there's no chance of it happening.

    Or mandating a bunch of extra safety equipment on board that makes the thing too heavy to fly. This is a risky endeavor, and it's going to operate on the edge of safety. Those who go up crave that risk and that adventure. They want to know that reasonable precautions for their safety have been taken, but there is a line where too much safety makes the whole venture impossible; weight is everything on this.

    I agree that it is the place of government to protect us from each other, and I hope that well-written legislation can make it happen. Sadly, I've seen very little well-written legislation.

    If they say, "You must clear out a space X miles wide for every Y miles you want to go up", I think that sounds reasonable. But if they want you to put airbags on the thing, especially if that comes about because the Senator from the Airbag Producing State decides his constituents want to sell more airbags, they could kill the entire venture all at once.

    [I can't believe I'm suddenly sounding like a Republican. I'm usually all for government regulation; it's our communal way to keep us safe from each other, and I never trust the oil or chemical industries to regulate themselves. But in this case it's a bunch of smart people who don't want to kill anybody or look bad, so I do trust them to regulate themselves better than Congress can.]
  • by Politburo (640618) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:11PM (#10462644)
    I think you mean:

    0) Find customers willing to go to space in a vehicle not covered by any safety regulations, aka the insane.

    1) Don't launch from the USA
  • by fmaxwell (249001) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:15PM (#10462676) Homepage Journal
    I was at the XPrize launch, and they made some comments about this. I was only half listening, but the impression I got was that they (Scaled, Xprize, etc) were in favor of this.

    What's better for space tourism:

    1. Rational regulations designed to protect the safety of passengers and citizens
    or
    2. a horrific accident resulting in multiple deaths because some greedy corporation compromised safety to increase their profits?

    I'm not at all surprised that they are in favor of getting sane regulations passed.
  • by HeghmoH (13204) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:16PM (#10462690) Homepage Journal
    Aside from the safety concerns above the craft, there are also major concerns for those around a launch site and for the enviorment in general. Rocket fuel is really nasty stuff.

    Most rocket fuel is not. Space shuttles use what is basically a giant sparkler for the boosters, and boring liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the main engines. Not very nasty at all. SpaceShipOne uses tire rubber and laughing gas.

    I remember the warnings after Columbia went bang sent out to people informing them that getting near peices of the reckage could be very hazerdous for their health.

    You are not nearly cynical enough. 99% of the reasong those warnings were made was to keep people from walking off with evidence by injecting them with fear.

    The remaining 1% is probably due to the nasty hypergolic fuels used for reaction thrusters and the like. This is not a huge concern, because the quantities are small, but it does exist.

    What happens when one of the crafts goes bang over some city or populated area?

    Same as what happens when an airliner crashes and burns over a populated area; horrible publicity, gigantic lawsuits, huge reparations. (Have you noticed that having a giant bureaucracy in place doesn't prevent the occasional airliner from crashing into a city?)

    And what is to stop them from taking off on the outskirts of populated areas to begin with?

    The fact that launch sites are already heavily regulated? The fact that anything that gets to space will go through FAA-controlled airspace first, and so allows the FAA to keep people from doing stupid things like launching big rockets from city parks? The fact that people would sue them into oblivion for even announcing plans?

    Sure they arn't now, but no regulations exist on the books to ensure that they don't.

    I really, really, really doubt that. The various licences that Scaled Composites obtained made headlines almost as large as their flights did. I doubt it would have been such a big deal if those licenses weren't necessary.

    All this will do is make it so that you will have to go through the mountains of paperwork needed for FAA clearance and another mountain of paperwork needed for clearance from this other regulatory body. And instead of a bloated, unfriendly government agency being able to veto your flight, you will have two bloated, unfriendly agencies and a "no" from either one will sink your venture.
  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:19PM (#10462727)
    If you drop a booster on my house, I'll sue you into the stone age.

    In your unregulated world where lawsuits are the only way to keep people's bad actions in check, who gets all the power to make decisions?

    It would be those damned trial lawyers, meddling judges and looney juries. It would probably be only system that could possibly be worse than our current one.

  • by Spencerian (465343) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:20PM (#10462743) Homepage Journal
    No one wants government to step in, but this is necessary as it was for any other public transport.

    Regulation sets laws that define behaviors that encourage business to invest (that is, with legislation, the likelihood of a suit is reduced and risks of collisions and other accidents are not considered experimental).

    Taxes from such regulation pay for advancements in disaster management and homeland defense (FEMA isn't yet equipped to handle a toxic booster drop; the National Guard and major armed services would need to assist in such a disaster, if not being aware of authorized and unauthorized Mach-2 vehicles in a city airspace, for instance).

    It would be best if any spaceflights (civil, business, or recreation) be handled in the one spot where such features are already in place and which would help in the overall flights--the Cape.

    I just came from a visit to the Cape and stayed at Cocoa Beach. Their economy is not good there, depending highly on decreasing tourism. A new space boom--one that would be sustaining either through private recreation suborbital hops, larger corporation spaceplane pan-oceanic commutes, as well as government flights from the Big Boys at NASA and the Air Force flights would do a state and a country good.

    I think we're looking at the next technological boon, and Scaled and Virgin are to be credited with spending the money and showing the results and potential.

    Uh, regulation does not stop when a transport leaves borders. The vehicle itself rules by the laws of the country of origin for the most part as well as common international airflight laws. A little adaptation for space travel and we're good to go.
  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JimBobJoe (2758) <swiftheart@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:22PM (#10462762)
    If you plan to launch a commercial space tourism effort from this country, of course it needs regulation. Would you prefer if any moron could claim to have a rocket and start tossing people up into space?

    I'm not going to deny that there are certain industries that require regulation. But I would say that this is an industry that requires no regulation at this point in time. For instance, it's not exactly true that any moron can throw people into space...especially since the people will be paying somehwere in the $200-$300k range for that privilege and will likely be very interested in making sure that it's an extremely safe process.

    If it were a $50 airline ticket from Cleveland to Chicago, the average flier would not have the ablity nor resources to assess the airline's ability to safely transport them. But on a nascent industry whose primary customer has an extra $300k around, I would say that the customers have the resources to perform such research in advance...and I'm further sure that they would insist on multiple levels of insurance policies, and those insurance companies will go out of their way to check on other related issues (like the possibility of debris raining down and how that could affect them.)

    Your local travel agencty is subject to regulation to prevent the worst of the scammers from coming into/staying into existence.

    Though there are sometimes, in some jurisdictions, specialized laws covering travel agents, existing criminal fraud and deception laws are sufficient.

    Having said all that, I think you would have to be insane to believe that the precautions and internal policies put in place on a private spaceship system would somehow be less than equal to NASA. NASA doesn't have to worry about profit. NASA has no insurance company breathing down its neck if something goes wrong. NASA astronauts worked their careers for the risk and privilege to be an astronaut, they didn't just pay for it. All NASA has to worry about is congressional oversight, which is often political, not necessarily practical. All in all I would trust a private company far more than the government to pull this off safely and cheaply, and I certainly couldn't see what benefit they would add in regulating it.

    We no longer live in the Wild Wild West...the insurance companies took care of that.

  • by IdahoEv (195056) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:24PM (#10462789) Homepage
    Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment.

    Without any regulation, businesses get very opportunistic and start cutting corners. In the space tourism industry, opportunism and cost-cutting ultimately leads to an accident. Imagine: five passengers die in a rocket explosion. Or a booster lands on a neighborhood in west bumfuck, killing thirty people and burning down half a dozen houses.

    The market responds exactly the way you expect: people stop going into space, fearing for their own safety. And now the public is clamoring for very tight controls, so instead of moderate, early regulation, we get draconian after-the-fact regulation. The space launch industry is set back decades.

    Industry is well known for making stupid, self-destructive decisions in the name of short-term profit and competition. In fact you can hardly blame them. If their competitors can cut margins by shaving safety to the bone, they have two choices: 1) do the same or 2) go out of business. Often, regulation is an attempt to keep an industry alive, saved from its own stupidity.

    Remember, it was the airlines who lobbied year after year against tighter security precautions like secure pressurized doors on cockpits. And sure enough, nineteen assholes with boxcutters took advantage of that to kill 3000 people, a couple years back. And what happened? Because they were desperate to save the hundred million it might take to upgrade the cabin doors, the airlines took a fifty-billion-dollar decrease in business in the year after 9/11, and the taxpayers had to freaking bail them out.

    By pushing for fewer regulations, the industry killed itself. It only survived because the rest of us paid for life support.

    Same with airbags, unleaded gasoline, safety belts: these things save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. But they would never have happened without government regulation: every time, the industry screamed that it would put them out of business. But you tell me, how's the automobile industry doing? Did it go out of business recently as a result of government regulation? No, in fact now many manufacturers use safety as a selling point.

    I'm as wary of unnecessary regulation as anybody. I'm a card-carrying EFF dude with a lot of libertarian values. But it's time to pull your uninformed-anarchist head out of the sand and learn some civics. Believe it or not, government and regulations actually exist for a reason, and used wisely can benefit everyone including the businesses being regulated.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:27PM (#10462808)
    If you drop a booster on my house, I'll sue you into the stone age.

    Sorry but you amateur rocket enthusiasts are going to have to be insured and held accountable like the big air carriers if you expect to carry passengers and play over populated areas.
  • by fmaxwell (249001) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:27PM (#10462815) Homepage Journal
    If you drop a booster on my house, I'll sue you into the stone age.

    And winning that lawsuit will bring your dead spouse, child, etc. back to life, won't it?

    If your 6G rocket kills 90% of its passengers, and my 5G rocket kills 5% of its passengers, people will figure out the risks for themselves, and choose to fly on my rockets rather than yours, at least until you redesign your rocket to be safer than mine.

    Ah, capitalism solves everything. So what about all of those dead people? Fuck 'em if they aren't rocket scientists and, thus, didn't understand the risk.

    Congress, you govern a very large economy.

    But the Republican leadership has spent four years making it smaller.

    Can't you leave this little piece of it alone? Surely there must be something left that you can fuck up for lobbyist dollars than space tourism. Is the well of freedom truly that dry that you have to wipe out private space tourism when it's less than 72 hours old?

    That's right! Look at how all of those damned regulations have killed the auto industry. They regulate everything: Seat belts, airbags, emissions, bumpers, lighting, brake systems, vehicle width... The list goes on and on. That's why no one drives cars any more.
  • Re:A sane voice! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:33PM (#10462881)
    Why regulate passenger safety any further than disclosing the risks involved? Personally, I believe I should be able to take stupid risks so long as I'm informed of the risks and I'm not coerced into doing so.
  • by the morgawr (670303) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:34PM (#10462901) Homepage Journal
    Actually those regulations prevent us from putting BETTER safety equipment in cars. Some of the things mandated have even been proved to be HARMFUL. However, do we care? F*** no! As long as congress says we're good, we can't get suied no matter how bad it gets.
  • Re:A sane voice! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:39PM (#10462953) Homepage
    "Personally, I believe I should be able to take stupid risks so long as I'm informed of the risks and I'm not coerced into doing so.

    Me too. But when you wind up in the hospital, and my health insurance rises, may I bill you for the difference? And if your stupid risk takes place in a national park, shall we call off the search & rescue team that is paid for by our taxes?

    See, I agree with you that if a person wants to risk their neck for fun they should be allowed to. We'll leave you alone. But whenever you need help, suddenly it's me who pays the bill for your stupidity. That's what I object to. So as long as you promise to quietly die in the wilderness with your broken back and leg, I have no problem with you taking stupid risks. Break a leg!

  • Exactly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ShamusYoung (528944) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:45PM (#10463039) Homepage
    I can't imagine how this could be useful. To anyone. Either this law will be a bunch of redundant nonsense (like don't drop boosters in populated areas, which is already illegal, inviting lawsuits, and bad for business) or it will be standards for design and construction to ensure "safety".

    Here is a hint: people going into space are pioneers. If they cared about safty they would stay home and play nerf ping-pong instead of launching themselvs into the deadly void of space atop a massive firework.

    I say let the courageous among us take the plunge, and make the way safe for the rest of us. I am amazed that lawmakers might think they know better than the engineers how to design a rocket.

    Just because the government is passing a "law for your own good" doesn't mean the law is good for you.

  • by Peyna (14792) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @03:51PM (#10463125) Homepage
    The difference is the possibility for the extent of injury due to negligence. A large falling piece of a rocket could destroy a large area (look at the Lockerbie disaster, and imagine something bigger and faster), especially if it is a dense area, you're talking considerably damage.

    Your horse is only going to carry a few people, and if it runs into something, cause minimal damage. The need for regulation occurs because of the possibility for much larger damage and more people being affected. This is why the government steps in. For the most part, they don't regulate something that affects only a few people or has little risk of damage; only when the public at large is potentially at risk, or large numbers of people.

    Assume that something fell off one of these things and caused significant damage. The injured people probably could win a suit for negligence for a substantial sum, which would more than likely put an end to the industry. Instead, if we have regulation, the injury is much less likely to occur, if it does occur, there are set damages and penalties, and the affected parties can still recover (and because of the regulation, others in the industry have less to fear, if they conform to the regulation.)

    I see it as a way for the average citizen to give permission (through representation) to someone to fly a potentially dangerous object over their head. Why shouldn't I be able to have some say in whether or not you can hurl objects into space which might endanger my life? And instead have to resort to a remedy in negligence should you screw up? I'd rather keep you from creating the risk than waiting until it occurs.

    We have already seen that the threat of a negligence suit does not stop a person or company from deciding to that which is less safe to the public. (I can't imagine I need to give examples of this.)
  • by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @04:23PM (#10463540) Homepage
    This is why I repeatedly say that 9/11 could never happen again with boxcutters. People will fight back. The pilots will resist.

    I don't know that that's necessarily a valid leap of logic. In the once example in which the passengers did fight back (i.e., Pennsylvania), everybody still died. I don't think that 9/11 guaranteed that in the future, every hijacking will necessarily be met with resistance.
  • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @04:38PM (#10463746) Homepage
    In the Pennsylvania example, the hijackers had already gotten quite a long way into their plan before the passengers realized what was going on (thanks to phone calls to the ground where the news of the other planes crashing was coming in). The pilots were already taken out. The cockpit was already in the hands of the hijackers. That's not the way it would happen if people were more paraniod from the start of the plan. And, it's useful to note that in that plane, ONLY the occupants died, not the occupants plus a bunch of people on the ground.
  • Re:Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by robertjw (728654) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @05:07PM (#10464046) Homepage
    Ahhh.... one of my favorite rants.

    So, you don't think that requiring automobile drivers to pass a (very) basic skill and knowledge test (the passing of which a driver's license is proof) is a good idea?...

    No, actually I don't think passing a very basic skill and knowledge test is a good idea. I think that there is not nearly enough training/testing that goes into licensing drivers. I also think that the city/state law enforcement uses the regulation of traffic to belittle and harrass what are generally law abiding, upstanding citizens. There is something wrong with a society that can turn me into a criminal just because I happen to cross paths with a grumpy traffic cop on the way to work.

    Beyond that, as is typical with government regulation, this regulation is very rarely served out equitably. Most traffic cops around here will profile you by age. They will pull a teenager that is obeying the law over for some imagined offense while they let some 98 year old woman turn across three lanes of traffic and kill 18 people.

    Finally, when was the last time you voted on a traffic law. I remember EXACTLY when the last time was that I had an opportunity to vote on it. Our city council decided they should make not wearing your seat belt a primary offense that the nice police officer could pull you over for (currently it is a secondary offense where a ticket can only be issued after a driver has already been stopped). The citizens of my fine city petitioned it for a vote, and we defeated it soundly. Other than that, I have never had anyone ask me my opinion on traffic laws in my city. No one ever asked me what the speed limit should be on my street, no one ever asked me if they should put a new stoplight in, about emissions laws, about insurance rates, about much of anything. You and the voters didn't make the laws, your representatives did, just like they do in every other segment of out fine country.

  • by kyliaar (192847) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @05:29PM (#10464311)
    Basically, the worst we have to fear is that Congress will make regulations so bad that space ports are merely relocated outside of the US.

    Chances are they realize this and rather than force the industry out their control, they will make logical regulatory laws that might add some impediment but not enough to make people look elsewhere for launch platforms.
  • by red floyd (220712) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @06:28PM (#10464903)
    And for flights that may cross a state line (cf. suborbital ballistic transport), the Interstate Commerce Clause actually is relevant, as opposed to a stretch.

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