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Government Issues Proposed Space Tourism Rules

Darlene Superville, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Regular tourist trips into space are still a thing of the future, but the government is getting ready for the eventual liftoff.

More than 120 pages of proposed rules, released Thursday, governing the future of space tourism touch on everything from medical standards for passengers to preflight training.

They spell out qualification and training requirements for the crew, and mandate training and informed consent for the "space flight participants"--known in more earthly terms as passengers.

The proposal does not include specifications for the space vehicles themselves.

Legislation signed a year ago by President Bush and designed to help the space industry flourish at its outset without too much government interference requires the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a ``phased approach'' to regulating commercial human space flights.

The first set of regulations _ dealing with crew qualifications and training and informed consent for passengers _ is expected to go into effect next June. Some other safety-related rules cannot by law be issued for eight years unless specific design features or operating practices are brought into question as a result of an incident causing serious injuries or a fatality.

"This means that the FAA has to wait for harm to occur or almost occur before it can impose restrictions, even against foreseeable harm," the proposal says.

Instead, Congress required that passengers be informed of the risks. In turn, passengers would have to provide written consent before takeoff that they understand and are aware of the risks.

Physical exams for passengers are recommended but will not be required ``unless a clear public safety need is identified,'' the FAA said in the proposed regulations.

Passengers also would have to be trained on how to respond during emergencies, including the loss of cabin pressure, fire and smoke, as well as how to get out of the vehicle safely.

Pilots, meanwhile, must have an FAA pilot certificate and be able to show that they know how to operate the vehicle. Student or sport pilot licenses would not qualify.

Crew members must have a medical certificate issued within a year of the flight, and their physical and mental state must "be sufficient to perform safety-related roles," the rules say.

The FAA also would require each crew member to be trained to ensure that the vehicle will not harm the public, such as if it had to be abandoned during a flight emergency.

Laws governing private sector space endeavors, such as satellite launches, have existed for some time. But there previously has been no regulation of commercial human spaceflight.

In 2001, California businessman Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist when he rode a Russian Soyuz capsule to the international space station. Mark Shuttleworth, a South African Internet magnate, followed a year later on a similar trip, also paying $20 million for the ride.

Last year, in a feat considered a breakthrough for the future of private spaceflight, Burt Rutan won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by rocketing his SpaceShipOne to the edge of space twice in five days. Rutan achieved his milestone just months after Mike Melvill became the first civilian to pilot a craft, also SpaceShipOne, to the boundary of space.

Two months ago, Greg Olsen, who made millions at a Princeton, N.J., technology company, became the world's third paying space tourist, also by hitching a ride to the international space station.

The 123-page FAA proposal was published in the Federal Register, the government's daily publication of rules and regulations, and will be subject to public comment for 60 days, through Feb. 27. Final regulations are expected by June 23.

posted: 12/31/2005

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