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Space Travel Regulations Are Coming. The Question: When?

The Space Industry is the Wild, Wild West -- for now.

Heidi Lux
September 16 2021

Space is pretty much the Wild West. It’s a vast, unregulated landscape where anything goes.  The Federal Aviation Agency has yet to sink its regulatory claws into the Final Frontier aside from a few ordinances covering personal safety for space travelers. Which is all well and good. No one likes rules, especially the tech billionaires who want to fly back and forth through space willy-nilly.

However, there is an argument to be made for regulation, especially because proper regulation might be key in allowing us common-folk the ability to fly through the cosmos just like the Bransons and the Musks of the world.

Currently, if you’re shooting yourself up into space, you’re technically a “flight participant”, not a traveler. And all the FAA really requires is that you’ve gone through safety training, are fit for flight, and that you don’t have any firearms or explosives on board.  

But a recent Tech Crunch article posits that imposing regulations might actually create more innovation, which would in turn make space travel more accessible to the average person. “[W] e need competition. What we have now is a few players operating perhaps for their founders’ benefits, not the world’s,” Joshua Jahani writes in Tech Crunch. “In short, we should treat space travel like any other form of transit. Making that sustainable economically will almost inevitably require some government intervention.”  

Jahani also advocated subsidies for space travel. “The space industry should be managed in a way that delivers the most good to the largest number of people. That starts with subsidies,” states Jahani, citing Amtrak as an example of government intervention giving travel a boost, making it more accessible to the common man. But in this case, it was trains – the transport of the past – rather than spacecraft – the transport of the future.

Congress has imposed a moratorium through 2023 on regulating the space travel industry. The thinking is that too much regulation will stifle innovation in the industry’s nascent stages. They figure that it’s more important to worry about making spacecraft efficient than to squabble over standardized seatbelts. There’s some truth to this. The space travel industry is still in the experimental stage and is rapidly changing. It's hard to regulate something when you don’t know what it looks like.

On the other hand, private space travel regulation is going to happen sooner or later. Federal agencies are already behind when it comes to regulation. Some regulation within the early stages might actually foster innovation by providing parameters to work with. And more importantly, it might make it cleaner. One commercial space travel launch emits more carbon dioxide in just a few minutes than the average car emits in two centuries. We need to make sure that we still have a planet here to leave.



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