Headlines > News > Commercial Space Launch Bill Nears Final Test In Senate

Commercial Space Launch Bill Nears Final Test In Senate

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Sun Dec 5, 2004 6:25 pm
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via hobbyspace.com: Space Access Update #107 12/02/04
Copyright 2004 by Space Access Society

Commercial Space Launch Bill Nears Final Test In Senate
Urgent – Call Or Fax Both Your Senators Before Monday 12/6/04!

When last we saw HR 5382 (The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, which does useful things for would-be private space passenger carriers) it had just been approved by the House of Representatives. (See http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau106.htm for details.) (By the way, thanks again for your efforts! 5382 needed a two-thirds majority to pass the House under the streamlined procedure used in the last-second Congressional rush, and got it, barely – chances are good you all made the difference in that one.)

At the time, we told you that the Senate might also pass HR 5382 before this 108th Congress gives way to the newly elected 109th (at which point all unfinished 108th business simply goes away) but we were a little short on details, and asked you all to stand by.

Alas, we’re still a little short on details, but the time has come to act. HR 5382 does still have a long-shot chance to pass, we know that. This Congress will be back in session one last time early next week, mainly to once again try to pass two major bills, the huge catchall “omnibus budget” spending measure and the “9/11″ intelligence agencies reorganization. The situation is complicated – more about it in the “Background” section below – but what you can do to improve 5382’s odds is simple:

Between now and the beginning of next week, contact both Senators from
your state and ask them to support HR 5382. The mechanics of this
should be familiar by now, though given that we have a bit more time
(Monday December 6th is the earliest the Senate might look at HR 5382
again) you have some options:

Phone Call

If you don’t have the phone number of your two Senators’ DC offices handy, log on to http://www.vote-smart.org and enter your nine-digit zip
code in the Find Your Representatives box, and scroll down to “Senators”. Then phone both Washington DC offices (the area code 202 numbers) and tell whoever answers that you’re from [your hometown], and you’re calling to ask Senator [your Senator's name here] to support HR 5382. If they ask you for more info, do your best to provide it (take a quick look at “Background” below – the short version is “because it’s important for the success of the new commercial space flight industry”) then thank them for their time and ring off. If you get answered directly by a voicemail (more likely over the weekend) give the same basic short pitch.

Fax

If you fax, be polite, brief, and straightforward – keep it well under one page of reasonably large and readable print (a paragraph that’s read is better than an essay that isn’t), make your basic point at the start, support it briefly, then sign it with your name, city, and state and send it. (No paper-mail letters – word is those currently are backed up for months by security checks – and email comes in such volumes that individual emails carry little weight. If you want to write, fax it if you can.)

Background

EVERBODY reading this who votes in the US needs to do this – every Senator counts, as the only way the Senate will consider HR 5382 in the very short time remaining in this Congress is under “unanimous consent” rules – meaning all it takes is one Senator to put an (anonymous by Senate custom) “hold” on HR 5382 and the bill is dead.

Our information is that when HR 5382 came up the week before last, several Senators did so – but we don’t know anything useful about who, or why – all we have is rumor and speculation.

Our estimate of the situation is that any attempt to do precise targetting or message-tailoring would likely do more harm than good. Our best shot is to contact the entire Senate and make the positive case for HR 5382 to each and every Senator. If we’re lucky, the combination of constituent interest, information, and possible persuasion from fellow Senators who’ve also been hearing about it will sway all the holdouts. As we said, it’s a bit of a long shot – but every last one of you can help improve the odds. As soon as we’ve sent this out, we’re going to go look up the numbers and make the calls – you do it too!

For more info on the history and content of HR 5382, see
http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau105.html and
http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau102.html .
(HR 5382 is the latest hard-fought compromise version of HR 3752, which in turn started out life as HR 3245.)

Our Brief Supporting Pitch

This new commercial space passenger industry has huge promise. It’s appropriate to have the FAA stringently regulate risk to uninvolved bystanders from the start, but the technology is still brand new and there’s a lot yet to learn about the best most reliable ways to do things. Industry participants have to be able to take some risks in these early days in order to learn enough so that rockets can eventually be as safe as airplanes took generations of accumulated aviation experience to get.

Some Points From The Chair Of The House Science Committee

This bill concerns the commercial space flight industry, an industry
that is now of interest only to entrepreneurs and daredevils and should
not be regulated as if it were a commercial airline acting as common
carrier…

The bill does give FAA unlimited authority to regulate these new
rockets to ensure that they do not harm anyone on the ground and to
ensure that the industry is learning from any failures. The bill also
gives FAA additional authority after 8 years by which time the
industry should be less experimental.

[SAS note - this new compromise provision has caused some confusion -
our understanding is it allows FAA AST to regulate only specific
matters that have caused actual problems for passenger/crew safety for
the first 8 years.]

[Aircraft industry-style "mature technology" regulation] would be the
equivalent of not letting the Wright Brothers test their ideas without
first convincing federal officials that nothing could go wrong.

________________________________________________________________________

Space Access Society’s sole purpose is to promote radical reductions
in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this Update in
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety.
You may reproduce sections of this Update beyond obvious “fair use”
quotes if you credit the source and include a pointer to our website.
________________________________________________________________________

Space Access Society
http://www.space-access.org
space.access@space-access.org

“Reach low orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the Solar System”
– Robert A. Heinlein

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