Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tuesday January 18, 2005. From a letter from my Congressman, Martin Olav Sabo, Minnesota 5th District:

"Thank you for contracting me to inquire about my vote against the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (H.R. 5382). I appeciate the opportunity to address your concerns.

"As you may know, the 108th Congress considered several bills to authorize passenger space flight. I support space exploration. However, I voted against H.R. 5382 because of concerns that its safety and regulatory provisions were inadequate and could result in unnecessary danger to the lives of passengers and crew on private space flights.

"Specifically, H.R. 5382 prohibits the Department of Transportation (DOT) from issuing safety design and operating regulations for eight years or until there is a death of catastrophic accident. This provision seriously limits the ability of the DOT to protect the health and safety of crew and space flight participants, since it exempts not only experimental flights by a manufacturer, but also passenger flights. It is irresponsible to allow the space flight industry to experiment with paying passengers on-board.

"Despite opposition from many members, H.R. 5382 was approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by the President. It is unclear whether the 109th Congress will revisit these serious safety issues.

"Finally, you may be interested to know that I voted for H.R. 3752, an earlier version of the legislation, which was overwhelmingly approved by the House. H.R. 3752 would not have precluded DOT from issuing basic safety standards to protect passengers."

From The Space Review, another view:

Well, shouldn’t they do something to protect the passengers? I have to answer a resounding no. The reason for this answer is that paying customers in the space tourism industry are not the same as passengers in the traditional sense of transportation by air. Instead, it is more appropriate to think of these persons as adventure tourists or reverse skydivers. Suborbital tourists are not paying to be transported from one point to another. In fact, they generally will end up just where they started. Instead, suborbital tourists are paying to be allowed along for the ride. Subrbital space tourism is the ultimate roller coaster ride, not a service designed to transport passengers. While we all want this to develop into a passenger service in the traditional functional sense, for now they are paying for the heart-pounding thrill of the ride and to see the awe inspiring view. Just as is not appropriate to mandate safety for persons who go swimming with sharks or climbing Mount Everest, it is not appropriate to mandate safety for private space flight participants.
My reaction: While "no safety mandates for climbers" is a logical position for libertarians to take, it's not one which governments take. And not because governments abhor a vacuum; because if they don't have safety mandates, they'll be blamed for any deaths. Not to mention that rescuing too-adventuring climbers is costly in money and resources. (And rational as it might be to just let the fools die, it's very bad public relations. "Very bad" as in "I'd like you to hand in your resignation five hours ago.")

Official information on H.R. 5382, including the summary of contents and the full text:

A search on Thomas for H.R. 3752 brings up this:
The text of H.R. 3752 has not yet been received from GPO
Bills are generally sent to the Library of Congress from the Government Printing Office a day or two after they are introduced on the floor of the House or Senate. Delays can occur when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed.

On the basis of the information at hand, I'd say Representative Sabo voted the right way. Given a few weeks of fulltime research, I might change my mind.

Important note: While I'm in favor of space exploration, including private enterprises, I don't think it has to be done in the USA or by Americans.

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