Tang, Check.
Space Suit, Check.
Waiver, Check.

11:18 PM

We all know "space tourism" as it is often called is just around the corner. Spaceports are already being built, and private reusable spacecraft are well past the drawing board stage. It is now only matter of a short time before commercial space travel is an everyday occurrence.

But before you think about obtaining a license to blast paying humans spaceward for a quick orbit around the Sun, you must first apply with the FAA for such a license. So in the name of easing the burden for so many up and coming applicants all itching to launch Grandma through the stratosphere, anyone who wants to apply for a permit to do so must first fill out The FAA Commercial Space Transportation Human Space Flight Checklist.

The checklist, publicly obtained from the FAA here (pdf), pulls back the curtains on quite a few aspects of what we can expect the world of commercial space travel to be like. A scan of that document today revealed the following:

– The pilot or "remote operator" of the private space vehicle must "possess and carry an FAA pilot certification with an instrument rating", and "must train in procedures that direct the vehicle away from the public in the event the flight crew abandons the vehicle during the flight." There is, however no mention of what happens to the paying souls in back when the crew bails out. And just what is this "remote operator" anyway? Me, I want the pilot and his/her soul on board, there will be no kid with a joystick back on Earth playing a video game with my life.

– Each crew member with a "safety critical" role must "possess and carry an FAA second-class airmen medical certificate issued in accordance with 14 CFR part 67." And, each member of the crew must show their ability to "withstand the stresses of space flight, including acceleration or deceleration, microgravity and vibration."

– The space flight operator (not the crew) must "implement security requirements to prevent any space flight participant from jeopardizing the safety of the crew or the public. A space flight participant may not carry on board any explosives, firearms, knives or other weapons." There's no mention of whether you need to remove your shoes, empty your pockets and remove your laptop from its case. I'm sure the TSA is all over this one.
O.K., those all sound like pretty normal requirements that the FAA might throw at these new commercial space flight applicants. But once the lawyers got involved, it opened up the floodgates of legalese and gibberish to cover everyone's butts. A few lowlights, verbatim:
"Operator must inform in writing any individual serving as crew that the U.S. Government has not certified the launch vehicle and any reentry vehicle as safe for carrying flight crew of space flight participants. Before receiving compensation of making an agreement to fly a space flight participant, an operator must inform each space flight participant in writing about the risks of the launch and reentry including the safety record of the launch and reentry vehicle. This written disclosure must include, for each mission, each known hazard and risk that could result in a serious injury, death, disability, or total or partial loss of physical or mental function, and that there are hazards not yet known."
Whew. If that doesn't scare Granny and her money away, the requirements of section 460.45(c) sure will:
Operator must inform space flight participants of the safety record of all launch and reentry vehicles that have carried one or more persons on board, including both U.S. Government and private sector vehicles. This information must include the total number of people who have been on a suborbital space flight, and the total number of people of have died or been seriously injured on these flights, and total number of launches and re-entries conducted with people on board and number of catastrophic failures of these launches and re-entries."
When they get right down to those last few requirements, it ought to look on paper that the odds of burning up in a fireball during your space fun flight are pretty low. With the exception of a few horrible disasters that come readily to mind, according to Wikipedia, the exploration of space can be considered relatively safe:
As of 2007, in-flight accidents had killed 18 astronauts, training accidents had claimed 11 astronauts, and launchpad accidents had killed at least 70 ground personnel. About five percent of the people that have been launched have died doing so (because astronauts often launch more than once). As of November 2004, 439 individuals had flown on spaceflights: Russia/Soviet Union (96), USA (277), others (66). Twenty-two have died while in a spacecraft: three on Apollo 1, one on Soyuz 1, one on X-15-3, three on Soyuz 11, seven on Challenger, and seven on Columbia. By space program, 18 NASA astronauts (4.1%) and four Russian cosmonauts (0.9% of all the people launched) died while in a spacecraft.
Given all this, would I buy a ticket on a commercial space flight, if money were no consideration? No, not right away. But give the operators some time to build a good safety record, and then absolutely, I must certainly would haul ass to space soon after hitting a phat Powerball jackpot. Maybe I'll get to sit between Julia Roberts and Bill Gates as they try out the latest new thing in chic, trendy air travel.

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