UNTIL now, the only people with a realistic hope of becoming "space tourists" have been multimillionaires who can afford to spend months training for a flight on a Russian Soyuz rocket.
That is likely to change dramatically in coming years. Last month Falcon 1, built by Californian company SpaceX, became the first privately built rocket to enter Earth orbit, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration struck a deal with Virgin Galactic to allow scientists to monitor climate change from its spacecraft. Civilian spaceflight, it seems, is firmly on the horizon (see page 24).
Yet amid the excitement and expectation, one word keeps popping up: safety. The fact that there are no globally enforceable safety rules for spacecraft, as there are for ships and aircraft, has some people worried. Strangely, it does not seem to worry the US Federal Aviation Administration, which believes that burdening civilian space flight with onerous safety regulations would put a brake on innovation. Consider the Wright brothers, it argues: aviation safety was not regulated until a couple of decades after they took to the air, which allowed time for the technology to evolve into the basic form that modern aircraft use.
Nevertheless, campaigners are lobbying the UN to create minimum safety standards for civilian spacecraft. This makes good sense. It should be possible to set standards that provide some protection for customers while still allowing innovation. No one wants to stifle creativity, but the one thing guaranteed to stop the space tourism industry in its tracks would be a tragic and avoidable accident.
Source Citation:"Space tourism must have safety standards.(Editorial)." New Scientist 200.2680 (Nov 1, 2008): 5(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 6 Sept. 2009
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