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House speaker Kevin McCarthy proposes bill to extend “learning period” for rocketry

The speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy (R- California) today introduced what he calls the STAR act, which would extend the learning period that exempts the new human commercial space industry from heavy regulation from its impended expiration this year for eight more years, to 2031. From his statement:

The STAR Act would extend the learning period by 8 years to provide sufficient time for the FAA and commercial space industry to develop consensus standards for human safety in space flight. The bill’s proposed 8-year extension corresponds with the lengths of the original learning period — from 2004 to 2012—and the extension by Rep. McCarthy’s SPACE Act (P.L. 114-90) — from 2015 to 2023.

More information here. That McCarthy has introduced this bill suggests its chances of passage are high, assuming a very divided and partisan Congress can manage to pass anything in the coming weeks.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Gary

    The basic question remains, what expertise do any of these folks have to “develop consensus standards for human safety in space flight. “

  • Gary: None, except that they are power-hungry blowhards that like to tell everyone else what to do.

  • Ron Desmarais

    The consensus standards are being developed by organizations such as ASTM which has committee F47 on Commercial Spaceflight. This committee includes people from many of the companies involved, as well as government representatives, academics and others familiar with the different aspects of the industry. As a member of F47 I am very familiar with the development work and have been very impressed with the way everyone has come together to develop these standards. The extension of the learning period is definitely the right approach.

  • Concerned

    This is certainly important to the commercial space industry, but bringing it up now is just a distraction from the massive elephant sitting in the Capital Rotunda, and that’s the overall government funding, set to expire in 8 days on 9/30. We currently sit at 7 trillion dollars in spending, representing 2 trillion of deficit troubles add to our now 33 trillion dollars of debt. McCarthy was elected speaker on the promise he would negotiate individual appropriations for all the various rapacious accounts, but none of that has happened over his 8 months. They’ve once again run out the clock and again want to bail out with yet another “clean continuing resolution” to fund the government, avoid the dreaded shutdown, and continuing to spend money they can only print and fuel the raging inflation we’re all suffering under. Not too many people are aware of the fiscal cliff we’re about to go over.

  • Edward

    /strong>Ron Desmarais,
    From the contexts of other threads, Gary and Robert Zimmerman are almost certainly talking about the members of Congress and their staffs, not the companies, NASA, ASTM, NTSB, or other cognizant organizations and people that are bringing their expertise to this very real concern.

    I have noted in the past that every manned spacecraft that has flown at least a dozen times has killed a crew. Sometimes it took more flights than that to kill the first crew and sometimes spacecraft that flew to space fewer times killed a crew, but the track record is still 100% for the more heavily-flown spacecraft.

    Each Dragon has a life expectancy that exceed this limit, so I fear there will eventually be a tragedy with one of them, and I think it likely that Starship kills a few crews going to and from Mars before we figure out how to do it right in space. The U.S. airline industry took about a century and millions of flights to figure it out, but the space industry can use similar techniques to help make space travel fairly safe, too.

    Around 1980, the U.S. airline industry realized that with the (then) rate of airliner accidents they had to go from serious about airline safety to very serious, otherwise there would soon be weekly headlines with disastrous passenger deaths. I believe that the commercial manned space industry is equally serious about safety, but their environment is not as well understood and flights last longer than aircraft flights with even more difficult means of getting back to the earth safely. Learning this new environment will take time, and some of the lessons will continue to be tragic.

    In the years since Bill Whittle made the following video, in 2011, we lost one passenger’s life on one airliner flight in 2016, but since 1980 the U.S. track record for passenger safety has improved tremendously. (7 minutes, “The Deal”).
    3:38: “The reason that we have cheap, affordable, and safe air transportation today and no space transportation whatsoever is simply because we were serious about air travel, serious enough to pay the price in blood and money, and we’re not serious about space. My friend and noted space expert Rand Sinberg summed it up perfectly when he said ‘we’ll know we’re serious about space travel when we have entire cemeteries full of dead astronauts who lost their lives showing us how to do it right,’ just like Gann’s generation did. Because that’s the deal. That’s what it costs.”

    4:17: “As with civil aviation, we learned from these events, that wishful thinking is a poor substitute for good engineering. So we went back and fixed the engineering, but we lost the stomach for it, because we didn’t go anywhere or do anything new. Part of the deal, you see, is that you pay in blood for progress. If there’s no progress, what’s the point?”

  • Edward: As far as I am concerned, your assumption about my comments in this and other threads is partly right. My real point always is that the worst thing you can do in these cases is pass a law.

    Having industry experts gather with government officials to intelligently and reasonably work out a proper policy, agreed to voluntarily by all, is an excellent approach, and always has been. It brings together the people who know best how to deal with the issues, and also leaves it to them to solve them. Such an approach also puts pressure on all parties to adhere to the policy but gives them wide latitude for doing so, within their own particular circumstances.

    Passing a law in such matters however is always a bad idea. Not only is it in violation of the fundamental principles of our country, restricting freedom, it is like using a hammer to darn socks. The people who pass such laws generally know nothing about the intricacies of the problem. Nor do the government bureaucrats who write the laws.

    Most important, laws can’t deal with the complexities of real life, and make dealing with these issues in a sane way impossible. In the end, the only solution when a law dictates action is to declare no actions be taken at all. (Witness Starship/Superheavy in Boca Chica).

    As always, the difference is between a bottom-up approach (the American way) and a top-down approach (the Soviet/communist way).

  • Edward

    We are on the same page. Congress and its staff is in the business of lawmaking, and the “learning period” extension allows the industry to continue exploring out-of-the-box thinking (so out-of-the-box that it is literally off the planet thinking).

    For six decades, the airlines had depended upon the FAA and the NTSB to regulate safety into the airline industry. Each time there was an accident or incident, new rules and regulations were created, a top-down approach, yet the safety was not improving fast enough. It was when the airlines stopped relying upon government solutions and themselves looked closer at the problem, around 1980, that they realized that the solutions were not regulatory but more procedural and methodological. The airlines chose a more bottom-up approach, preventing the accident or error, thus a new regulation did not have to be implemented, and two decades later passenger safety was far better than anyone could have expected. In 1980, who would have imagined that the major U.S. airlines would, a mere two decades later, start a two decade run with only one passenger death? The bottom-up approach, the American way, has worked virtual miracles ever since the Pilgrims changed to a freer, bottom-up way of running their society.

    For example, rather than conclude pilot error as the cause of an accident and creating a regulation that said ‘don’t do that,’ the airlines looked at why the pilot made the error, and created systems and methods that kept pilots from making errors in the first place. Cockpit resource management methods keep pilots focused and reduce errors, and maintenance and design improvements reduce mechanical failures and reduce human-machine interface errors. Crews perform self assessments to understand how their state of mind may affect their performance on that flight. Copilots have much more input and responsibility, preventing errors by the pilot (pilot flying vs pilot monitoring). Many more improvements, all the way from the drawing board to the cockpit, have made the fundamentals of flying much easier to perform, and they are best practices rather than restrictive laws, regulations, or rules.

    As with laws, each rule or regulation limits the ability of businesses and individuals to make improvements that work outside those regulations, even if they would be better, safer, or more effective or efficient — the complexities of real life.

    The only reason government could justify getting involved is if a real problem is not solved by We the People. Even then, government’s involvement is a tragedy. How many lives were lost in the 20th century because the airline industry depended upon government regulation for safety in their industry?

    Another example is England’s law requiring fields to lie fallow every other year, a law created (and paved) with good intentions. Crop rotation, the agricultural revolution, was better but violated the law. Farmers had to break the law in order to use crop rotation, which greatly increased the food supply and was instrumental in the creation of England’s worldwide empire and the industrial revolution. Tiny England became a world power because of scofflaw farmers. The fallow field law wasn’t repealed until a century ago, after modern fertilizers made crop rotation obsolete.

  • Edward: Alas, while we might be on the same page, far too many Americans are not even reading the book.

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