Regulators Are About To Descend On Mojave
Okay, the flight's over, the band's been struck and somewhere, a
$10 million check from the Ansari X-Prize Foundation is working its
way through the banking system. Now what?
Enter the regulators -- and if that sounds like there's a new
sheriff in town, well... there is. Several, in fact. From the
bowels of the FAA to the Capitol dome, Washington is poised to
lower the heavy hand of regulation upon the Mojave Spaceport and
all who fly from it.
"Our first concern will be the safety of the uninvolved public,
making sure that as this grows and develops that we're doing
everything we can to protect the folks on the ground, to make sure
that the people who go into space understand the risks," said FAA
Administrator Marion Blakey during a visit to the Mojave (CA)
airport for Scaled's winning X-Prize attempt Monday. While there,
she paid a visit to XCOR, an X-Prize contender and still very much
a player in the race to providing tours in space. "It will be a
risky business for many years to come, no doubt."
So much for Burt Rutan's concept of "fun."
The fledgeling space tourism industry and federal authorities
are talking about how to regulate flights that take Joe Average and
his wallet into the black sky beyond Earth's atmosphere.
Among the items that may be targeted for regulation:
- Limiting g-forces imposed on passengers
- Availability of safety records to the general public
- Informed consent on the part of would-be space tourists (are
you sure you know what you're getting into?)
"The kind of threshold that we will have to figure out how to
achieve," said Patti Grace Smith, the FAA's associate administrator
for commercial space flight, "is the cognizance issue: How do we
know that they understand the risk that they are taking? How do we
know that they understand what they're doing?" she said.
So what do you say when the FAA's honchos come a-calling, with
the idea of regulating your bread and butter? In the case of XCOR
President Jeff Greason, you say, "Yes ma'am."
But Greason was also quick to point out the differences for
those who want a wild ride to the top of the sky and those left on
the ground below.
"The uninvolved public has to be held to a very high level of
safety," he said. "There's no reason they should be exposed to a
level of risk that's different than they see from any other aspect
of industrial life.
"The involved passenger, the people who are deliberately putting
their lives and treasure at risk to open the space frontier they've
dreamed of their entire lives, as long as they know what they're
getting into, I think they have to be allowed to take that
Even the FAA admits the process of coming up with regulations
that everyone can live with will take time. But the clock is
ticking and the wonks from Washington are taking notes.