Fear of Oberstar

If there is anything more dangerous to the space tourism industry than this, it's this.

In his ever-provocative way, Taylor Dinerman voices a worry shared by many in human spaceflight business about the
Congressman from Minnesota's push to amend the CSLAA: Will James Oberstar kill the space tourism industry? (The Space Review) Read it this Thanksgiving (at halftime).

In spite of some weasel wording, the hard legal requirements of Oberstar's proposed regulation would effectively kill the whole entrepreneurial suborbital industry. The cost not only of developing a manned rocket that complies with the kind of safety burden that Oberstar wants, not to mention the astronomical cost of proving that a vehicle actually does comply with the regulations, will make it all but impossible even for the deepest pockets to build anything.

Even worse, Oberstar might open the door for the tort lawyers to come in and strip mine all the investment capital out of the industry. They almost killed off the US general aviation industry before Congress stepped in and put a stop to the lawsuit avalanche. In that case, tens of thousands of US jobs were at stake, but with the space tourism industry so far only hundreds of jobs are now at risk. The greatest danger is that all the thousands of high-paying jobs that the space tourism industry will create if the industry is left to develop under current rules will simply never exist.

Yes, overregulation can indeed stifle the development of new American space business, and litigation seriously chill the flow of venture dollars, all to the benefit of foreign competition. We'll see if the 110th Congress gets this.

And what of jobs for poor tort lawyers? Sometimes it does seem litigation is as American as football at Thanksgiving. Many folks note good tort law has saved countless innocent Americans from injury and wrongful death. But to set off what Taylor calls a "lawsuit avalanche" against space tourism interests could be deadly for an industry designed by and for knowledgeable and willing risk takers. Lawyers -- and lawmakers -- should not create a threat of economic disaster. Congress called for reasonable steps to protect public safety without causing undue economic harm to the newborn human spaceflight industry. That is the proper balance of interests here. And that's no turkey. However, as always, to do business in America is to assume the risk of getting sued.

(For the record, Oberstar is not a tort lawyer. Or a lawyer at all.)

UPDATE: See also Rand's blog for his earlier
post and comments on this.

Happy Thanksgiving ;)

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