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Space Government

Regulations Could Delay or Prevent Space Tourism 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
schwit1 writes "This report explains how Virgin Galactic space tourists could be grounded by federal regulations. From the article: 'Virgin Galactic submitted an application to the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation in late August 2013, says Attenborough. The office, which goes by the acronym AST, has six months to review the application, meaning an approval may come as early as February. Industry experts, however, say that may be an overly optimistic projection. "An application will inevitably be approved, but it definitely remains uncertain exactly when it will happen," says Dirk Gibson, an associate professor of communication at the University of New Mexico and author of multiple books on space tourism. "This is extremely dangerous and unchartered territory. It's space travel. AST has to be very prudent," he says. "They don't want to endanger the space-farers or the public, and they can't let the industry get started and then have a Titanic-like scenario that puts an end to it all in the eyes of the public.""
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Regulations Could Delay or Prevent Space Tourism

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  • Titanic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spaham (634471) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:15AM (#46032903)

    Oh, like the Titanic stopped boat traveling, right ?

    • Re:Titanic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:22AM (#46032929)

      Hindenburg would have been a better example.

      • by bkmoore (1910118)

        Hindenburg would have been a better example.

        Economics stopped commercial Airship travel, not the Hindenburg disaster. Airplanes were simply less expensive, faster, and more reliable.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        The loss of the Hindenberg did not stop airship travel. It was the technology itself that basically sucked wind and was far too costly to continue any further investment. While for a time there was some huge concern about the use of hydrogen as a lifting gas, even that I find as a side argument to the much larger problems that come from any lighter than air vehicles.

        The U.S. Navy had several air ships as commissioned ships and made some serious attempts to make them useful including an attempt to turn them

        • It WAS ecconomicaly feasible...as long as they could use hydrogen to give buoyancy. Once they woke up to the fact that hydrogen was a bit too flamable, the much rarer (and more expensive) helium alternative made airships impractical. Oh the humanity!

          • by Teancum (67324)

            It WAS ecconomicaly feasible...as long as they could use hydrogen to give buoyancy. Once they woke up to the fact that hydrogen was a bit too flamable, the much rarer (and more expensive) helium alternative made airships impractical. Oh the humanity!

            Hydrogen as a lifting gas is not that dangerous, and the safety of Helium is far too overrated as well. Gasoline in an automobile is far more dangerous than Hydrogen, noting also that one of the problems with the Hindenberg is that its skin was essentially made out of a type of rocket propellant and as much of the cause of the disaster (IMHO more likely) than the hydrogen gas itself. The engineers of the dirigibles knew very well how flammable Hydrogen was, and it should be pointed out that the whole acci

      • Like the Hindenburg stopped Goodyear :)
      • by Xicor (2738029)
        just want to point out that the reason the hindenburg had so many problems was that they cut down on expenses by using hydrogen instead of helium to fill the blimp... of course hydrogen is incredibly flammable, while helium is not.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      It most certainly did, for a whole bunch of it's passengers and crew, permanently. Corporations can only be trusted to do it cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, right up until cheaper guarantees failure, then they declare bankrupt and the public pays to clean it up (whilst all the profits generated up until then appear to disappear up a banksters blackhole).

  • Bullet meet foot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by horm (2802801) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:28AM (#46032961)
    Sounds like a good way to drive privatized space travel to another country.
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Sounds like a good way to drive privatized space travel to another country.

      Maybe that's a good thing. It could be a national embarrassment if something goes wrong. We already push our pollution, risk, and child slave labor to 3rd world countries, why not add embarrassment to the list?

      • by hey! (33014)

        Maybe that's a good thing. It could be a national embarrassment if something goes wrong.

        I shouldn't think so. What the company is offering is pretty much the equivalent of bungee jumping, only three orders of magnitude more expensive. A lot of the appeal is the perceived danger. And it's a private company headlined by a *British* rock star style CEO.

        The "informed consent" standard which the FAA is reportedly using is an entirely reasonable one, especially for the early flights. After a thousand or so people have done it without incident, then the perception of risk will go down considerably

    • by icebike (68054)

      Won't happen, because these government grandstanders aren't going to get in the way.
      Its official US policy to privitize space launch businesses and make them economically feasible.
      Virgin has the only plan that gets private money into the game today. Everyone else is launching government payloads at public expense.

      The current Virgin ship isn't going to be launching any serious payloads, but it will fund continuing development.
      Nobody is going to stand in the way of any vehicle until there is a disaster. Nobo

      • http://www.spacex.com/missions [spacex.com] shows ORBCOMM sending up with spacex in a bit. That's private money. Loral is another one of their customers. Iridium has quite a few flights over the next few years. So, while a lot of their payloads are governmental now, not all are. And as they get their processes down, and their costs come with it, even more private companies will be launching with them. They're getting to a point where they plan to do weekly launches, and that's an economy of scale that will make it
    • Whatever his other foibles, Reagan knew how the USG operates [brainyquote.com]:

      Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

  • by bobjr94 (1120555) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @01:38AM (#46033015) Homepage
    Just like cruise ships are registered all over the world, typically in countries with fewer regulations, whats to stop these space tourism companies from doing the same thing. If you can pay $100,000 or whatever for a quick trip into space, kicking in another $700 for airfare shouldn't be a deal breaker.
    • White Knight can't take off from a ship.

    • by bondsbw (888959)

      I don't know about you, but if I'm going to throw $100K toward a thrill ride that could easily end in my death, I'm not inclined to do so with a company that chooses to operate outside of an established government regulatory authority.

    • Just like cruise ships are registered all over the world, typically in countries with fewer regulations

      Which sounds impressive until you know the rest of the story... which is that, despite the regulations of the nation-of-registry they're still subject to certain health and safety regulations of the nations whose ports they enter. They still need insurance, and no reputable insurance company will touch them unless the ship has been certified by a known Classification Society. Etc... etc...

      Flags

  • Insurance? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088)

    Does Obamacare cover craterification?

  • "They don't want to endanger the space-farers or the public, and they can't let the industry get started and then have a Titanic-like scenario that puts an end to it all in the eyes of the public."

    Puts and end to all of what? Did we stop ocean-faring after Titanic sunk? What is this guy talking about?

    • by ThorGod (456163)

      The Hindenburg. But I don't buy it. If anything's holding up space tourism, it's cheaper ways of leaving the surface.

      • by weilawei (897823)
        I think what's holding up space travel is the ability to stay up there (and not in the ISS...). Reduced gravity isn't great for humans, we haven't established large permanent structures (the ISS does not count) for colonization. We also haven't worked out how to mine useful resources up there and sustain life with them. Until we do, gravity wells will be an issue (short of sufficiently advanced technology/magic). If you want people to inhabit a new environment, you have to figure out how to keep them alive
        • by dbIII (701233)

          I think what's holding up space travel is the ability to stay up there

          No it's the will to put the resources to use to do it. Kennedy had it. Nixon didn't (although he had an expensive war dumped on him as a pretty good excuse). Nobody since has had the will to do much. Private enterprise can (and did) build the stuff but funding it is a different story - something without an obvious financial return is not the role of private enterprise.

          Also - why doesn't ISS, Mir, Skylab etc count? There have been so

          • by ThorGod (456163)

            Private enterprise can (and did) build the stuff but funding it is a different story - something without an obvious financial return is not the role of private enterprise.

            Again, the cost to get up there is too high with current technology and energy supplies. Yes, private and public sectors can get up there if they have a desire to be up there...and if it were cheaper to get up there, it would be done more often.

            I'm thinking of something like a space sling or an elevator. I don't know which of those are feasible at the moment, if either. But...the NM desert would probably be a great place for either!

  • I wonder if they are going to mandate chest x-rays for anyone coming back to space in order to look for any "abnormalities" [google.com] they may have picked up out there.
  • Space is dangerous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @02:38AM (#46033329) Homepage

    Please raise your hand if you are planning on using a large controlled explosion to propel yourself into the oxygenless, -270 Celsius medium of space, return by crashing back down hundreds of miles, and your plan to do so is rooted in the belief that this is all fantastically safe and unlikely to result in your death.

    I think the government space program has had an overall fatality rate of something not quite 10%. It's reasonable considering just what they've been doing, but even if commercial space flight is 10 X more safe than the program NASA developed, that's still going to be some guaranteed casualties for any widely implemented program. It's certainly nothing you would tolerate coming from an air liner. Anyone going up is going to have to be acknowledging the not-utterly-unlikely possibility of their death

    That said, some oversight isn't bad -- as long it's reasonable and not based on the stupid and unquantifiable "We have the prevent the next Titanic" metric -- but what the government should *really* be offering is direct assistance. The program is still small enough that it's entirely reasonable to help out all the viable startups, and nothing is going to promote success and safety so much as direct cooperation with experienced persons at NASA.

    • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning.netzero@net> on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @04:53AM (#46033725) Homepage Journal

      I think the government space program has had an overall fatality rate of something not quite 10%. It's reasonable considering just what they've been doing, but even if commercial space flight is 10 X more safe than the program NASA developed, that's still going to be some guaranteed casualties for any widely implemented program. It's certainly nothing you would tolerate coming from an air liner. Anyone going up is going to have to be acknowledging the not-utterly-unlikely possibility of their death

      The actual number of people who have died as a direct result of being in a spacecraft which malfunctioned or somehow caused the death of the occupant is a fair bit lower than you are suggesting. See also:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents [wikipedia.org]

      Of the total number just more than 500 people [wikipedia.org] who have been in space, 22 people have died. While certainly worse than what you would expect for air transportation, it is not a figure to simply pull out of your behind. It is important to note that these are also pioneers with this form of transportation, where at least for the early travellers they literally had no idea what to expect when they even got into space and the designers of these vehicles really didn't know what to anticipate either.

      When compared to the deaths of early aviators and even the deaths of passengers in aviation for the first 50 years of air travel, this is dong pretty damn well and has a surprisingly low casualty rate all things considered.

    • > Please raise your hand if you are planning on using a large controlled explosion to propel yourself into the oxygenless,
      > -270 Celsius medium of space, return by crashing back down hundreds of miles, and your plan to do so is rooted in the
      > belief that this is all fantastically safe and unlikely to result in your death.

      I'll take 10km and -60C, but only if I get peanuts and don't get to sit next to the fat guy.

      At least for the first ten years, suborbital flights will have a lot more scrutiny than

    • by kimvette (919543)

      The solution to this of course is to round up all the politicians and the lawyers (along with Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them - you know, all the important people). Tell them We're going to colonize another planet and that they are so vital that they need to arrive there first to prepare for everyone else's arrival. They are so ego-driven that they will be easily convinced to do this

    • "but what the government should *really* be offering is direct assistance."

      Space tourism is an incredible waste of resources, and unless we come up with a far more efficient way of attaining orbit it will never scale to the point that an average person will get to experience it. If there are enough rich folk with money to literally burn, fine, let the free market do its thing, but there's no reason to blow public funds to launch hedge fund managers into space.

      Although if we're talking about a one-w
  • by radarskiy (2874255) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @02:40AM (#46033345)

    If we're going to make an exhaustive list of theoretical obstacles, we're going to need a bigger internet.

  • An aphorism springs to mind: "Never take no, from somebody who can't say yes."

    These bureaucrats have no ability to enable space travel, no idea of what it entails in terms of engineering. But they have put themselves in charge of blocking it. Right.

    Get the fuck out of the way, bureaucrat, and let the people who can, get on with it.

  • Regulations could delay or prevent .

    That's, like, the whole point of regulations in the first place.

    *yawn*

  • by SuperDre (982372)
    accidents do happen (see how many accidents have happened during the spacerace by the goverment), restricting the ammount of passengers in the first place is a good step. But just let the industry do, with high reliability if something happens (that'll hopefully make sure they don't cut corners to make a buck). But just grant the commercial parties the permissions, as NASA isn't going anywhere, and spacetravel is heavily needed as resources on the earth are getting less and less, we need to travel to other
  • Regulation is impending on my rights to make money!

    Well, regulation is preventing me seeing Game of Thrones as soon as it is released, so boo-hoo... /sorry about the rant...

    • by evilRhino (638506)
      But thankfully it is not preventing you from storing chemicals of unknown danger in shoddy equipment next to a river that provides 300,000 people with their water. Because freedom!
  • Doesn't really matter - there's a few years to sort this mess out and in the meantime the Russians, Chinese and probably even Iranians will be getting many people into space before the small company launchers are ready.
  • A nice way to bias and frame the debate before it even starts. A real "Fair and Balanced" headline. All Virgin is being asked to do is meet a standard like the airline industry.

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