Voluntary Industry Standards Needed for Commercial Human Spaceflight Says Wayne Hale

Voluntary Industry Standards Needed for Commercial Human Spaceflight Says Wayne Hale

A line-up of top Washington space policy-makers and industry representatives carried diverse messages to the FAA’s annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference yesterday.   Among them was a call by Wayne Hale for voluntary industry standards instead of government regulations for commercial human spaceflight.

Hale, a former NASA space shuttle program director who is widely known for his incisive reflections about the Columbia tragedy and ongoing space program commentary via his blog, was at the conference championing the development of voluntary industry standards for commercial human spaceflight to obviate the need for government regulations.   Currently a consultant for Special Aerospace Services, Hale argued that this nascent industry needs to be “nimble and innovative” and not hamstrung by government regulations that are difficult to change as technology advances.  Saying that he is involved in a standards-setting activity through the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), Hale implored all the commercial space entities at the conference to “rapidly reach consensus on voluntary standards.”  That would “alleviate the anxiety of policymakers” and let the industry control itself.

CSF is a relatively new industry association for companies involved in commercial human spaceflight.  While its narrow focus may make it a logical place to develop standards for that specific industry, some question whether the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) would not be a better choice for hammering out such standards.  AIAA is already involved in standards-setting for the aerospace industry and is a member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which in turn is the U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).   Regardless of what organization serves as the incubator, Hale’s message was that the industry would be well served by reaching agreement on voluntary standards quickly.  

The FAA is prohibited by law from developing regulations for passenger safety on commercial human spaceflights until 2015.  Earlier in the day, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a long-standing proponent of commercial space activities and author of the 2004 law restricting FAA’s authority, also warned against heavy handed government regulation that he said could postpone the promise of commercial human spaceflight.   He stressed that unlike aviation where the FAA’s main role is protecting passenger safety, for commercial human spaceflight its interest should be only the safety of the general public.  The FAA should “protect third parties not the passengers themselves,” allowing individuals to make their own choices about how much risk they are willing to take.   “Allowing individuals to take risk is what has made America a great nation,” he insisted.

The FAA conference continues today.

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