I referred to assertions contained in the astronaut health and behavioral assessments as "allegations." Indeed, in a statement yesterday, Mike Griffin said: "the report was assembled from anecdotal information, unverified by the committee and, indeed, not documented in a way that would allow us to pursue the cited incidents to closure."
This blog is not Space Liquor Probe, but for the SLP record, here is some NASA documentation in connection with the astronauts health and behavior matter -- if you're interested, review it yourself:
And, as I linked on Friday, the video of NASA's 80-minute news conference on this; and here is the transcript.
NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale said NASA chief of safety and mission assurance Bryan O'Connor "began an extensive examination Friday focusing on allegations of improper alcohol use," and that the agency "will develop an astronaut code of conduct." And she said NASA "is moving forward to implement many of the recommendations contained in two studies..."
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IMAGE: This may not be our favorite picture of Shana Dale, but last Friday's news conference in which she addressed questions of astronauts and alchohol probably wasn't her favorite moment as deputy administrator.
Lessons of misfortune
As the personal spaceflight community along with its friends and supporters continue to sort through shock and sadness in the aftermath of last Thursday's tragedy at Mojave Air and Space Port, many industry insiders and others have quickly termed the fatal event an "industrial accident." It was not a space vehicle crash, a failed launch or landing, a suborbital mishap of any kind; although as Alan Boyle and others suggest, this was still about spaceflight.
On a bright note, as Jeff Foust observes in The Space Review this week: "The long-term implications of this particular accident are, at this early stage, too early to determine, but given the lack of mainstream media attention outside of local and industry circles, there is at least so far no evidence of a strong negative reaction from the public to this tragedy."
(Of course, the headlines writers were a bit busy typing "N A S A." As Rand Simberg quipped, "It's ironic and amusing that NASA's latest foibles may knock the biggest accident to affect NewSpace off the headlines....")
The initial reaction could have been worse. It remains to be seen whether the public may have some tolerance for a bit of danger in this business after all.
Meanwhile, public perceptions aside, the folks in this industry who are paid to worry have been doing their jobs all along. No one specifically mentioned a nitrous oxide exxplosion during testing. But the space tourism accident that will come is always a topic at commercial space conferences and events, including this month's NewSpace 2007 in Arlington, Virginia. There's always a panel or two at entrepreneurial events along the lines of "Surviving a Bad Day in Space: Risk Management Architecture," which at NewSpace was chaired by aerospace litigator Doug Griffith, and included Bretton Alexander, Kelly Alton and NTSB investigator Bob Benzon. Jeff looked back at that panel in The Space Review in his article, Preparing for the worst. And Clark Lindsey live blogged the panel here.
Jeff notes that the words space transportation is inherently risky "are, quite literally, the law of the land in the United States, part of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004."
What if anything should have been done differently last week at Mojave? What will be done differently now? How will investors, insurers, regulators and participants respond to and chalk up the accident? Without knowing what happened to cause the nitrous oxide explosion, it is too soon to even speculate (legally speaking, anyway). Of course, the injured and families of the lost Scaled employees will be entitled to compensation. For now, California OSHA and the company will proceed with investigations. (For its part, FAA/AST has not publicly commented on the event.) Much more to come.
Bad News Flybys
First, in the wake of the fatal explosion yesterday on the ground at Mojave Air and Space Port: to the families of the injured and lost Scaled Composites employees, deep condolences. Unfortunately the tragedy involving a serious mishap during testing of rocket motor components hangs a cloud over the private spaceflight world. As everyone knows, however, accidents are a reality for many an innovative industry on its way to developing and innovating safe new technologies.
In offering its "deepest sympathies," the Personal Spaceflight Federation said: "We will await the results of the investigation before further comment, but we have complete confidence that the causes of the incident will be found in due course."
Indeed, as investigations proceed, and all the appropriate agencies and officials weigh in, much will follow in terms of the implications -- procedural, regulatory, business and otherwise -- of yesterday's setback at Mojave. For now, godspeed to Burt Rutan, and the company's workers and friends out in California.
Meanwhile over at NASA...
Well. The agency accustomed to all kinds of scrutiny and attention must feel like crawling under a moon rock after this brutal week. Nonstop jokes, satire and "hangover headlines" (couldn't resist that link) mercilessly followed a string of reports which included the likes of a finding (well, just "mindboggling" allegations so far) that a few astronauts flew on shuttle missions while intoxicated (no really -- how is that even possible?), news of apparent "sabotage" of equipment bound for the International Space Station, an incident involving embezzling of $150,000 by a former employee, not to mention a ridiculous 50-page GAO report (GAO-07-432) that slapped the agency around for some petty property management issues. Yikes. (Need a drink, NASA?)
For now -- as I hold off on previously planned mundane flybys, such as, oh, some satellite radio merger/FCC developments, an update on FAA's amateur rocket rulemaking, and other undramatic things -- let us stop and note at least the one bit of good news:
This week is almost over.
(A battered Wall Street is grateful about it, too.)
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UPDATE: Here is a CNN video of deputy adminitrator Shane Dale responding today to the agency's panel which found instances -- which I still cannot believe -- of drunk astronauts on shuttle flights. O'Doul's anyone?
New friends in China
As I've blogged, globally-admired space law Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz received a cool invitation to speak at the International Forum on Air and Space Law, June 24-27, 2007 in Beijing, China. This was the inaugural event for the newly founded Institute of Air and Space Law at the renowned China University of Political Science and Law (中国政法大学) (CUPL) (if you prefer, here's the CUPL's site, in Chinese).
Joanne, who as we all know is director of the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, happily obliged her gracious Chinese hosts. (In fact, she rarely says no to this type of invitation. And she gets lots of 'em.)
CUPL asked the professor to make three presentations: a welcoming address on behalf of the invited western scholars; a presentation on aerospace law education at the University of Mississippi School of Law; and a talk on one of her extra special specialties, U.S. federal remote sensing law.
All presentations were translated simultaneously from English to Chinese. Neat. (My only regret, other than that I didn't get to go, was that forum proceedings are only published in Chinese.)
More details from Joanne, via our recent e-mail chat: The forum chair was Mr. Xuan Zengyi, director of the Institute and deputy dean of the Faculty of International Law. Other speakers included: Prof. Stephen Hobe from the Cologne Institute of Air & Space Law; Robert Luke, Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs at the United States Embassy in Beijing on behalf of the United States Department of Transportation; Ma Zheng, Deputy Director of Policy and Law Department of China Civil Aviation Administration Bureau, as well as a number of faculty members from CUPL. Joanne said "the forum was well attended by students."
Joanne even met a CUPL international law professor who studied in Mississippi at her university for a year (way back in the 80's) with space law guru the late Professor Stephen Gorove. Yes, it's a small space law world.
All round, a super event. No doubt many more like it will follow. For now, congratulations to CUPL on the new Institute of Air and Space Law. It's a whole new space age for China and everyone, and the law will do its best to keep up (with help of course, from the jet-lagged professor, and all her friends).
IMAGE: Thanks to whomever took this photo. And yes, that's Joanne in the front row.
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Update: On a semi-related note . . . alas, the prized photo of the professor wearing an abaya when she spoke in Saudi Arabia a few years ago remains unavailable on the Internet. But I'm working on it.
Late July Flybys
Never mind. I just took a quick spin around blogspace (and elsewhere) to grab a small handful of noteworthy items from during my hiatus. (Can I go away again in August?)
Belated happy Evoloterra! ;)
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IMAGE: Alas, that's not me chillin' on vacation. (My digital shots are not ready for blogspace.) This is MIT's Prof. Dava Newman modeling her Biosuit-- "a sleek spacesuit that relies on mechanical counter-pressure instead of using gas pressurization." She's also enjoying Henry Moore's sculpture "Reclining Figure" on MIT's campus. Donna Coveney snapped the photo. And yes, Spiderman is jealous of Dava's threads.
Vacation space '07
An SLP seasonal toast to all of us, and to summer!
(Beware of recipe pictured here if you're a bit of a lightweight, like me. I recommend just one of these famous local killer cocktails. OK, two. Well, maybe three. Four, tops. Certainly never more than five. Whatever floats your boat. And remember: friends don't let friends launch drunk.)
For now, hitch your star wagon to a kayak, golf cart, dune buggy, beach chair, etc.
Back shortly. Cheers!!
The Space Lawyer Song
Space lawyer. It's a career, job description, esoteric but fast growing legal specialty, and now, at last -- a rock song, complete with live YouTube video, and the unofficial and exclusively unauthorized soundtrack of the previously largely unmusical law blog (or blawg), Space Law Probe. Because indeed, while most blawgs do not boast a theme song or any musical accompaniment, SLP is not most blawgs.
So without further ado, I give you the "the Nation's Premier Law Rock Band," yes, none other than Mikey Mel and the JD's, performing live at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia, USA, their first would-be superhit single and SLP anthem: Space Lawyer.
(No, these are not Professor Reynolds' students. But look closely at the video and you might see a copy of the Professor's space law text under the amp.)
My professional advice on all this? I would simply offer the following: Stuff that looks cool up on MySpace or YouTube may not necessarily work quite as well on your resume. But never ever let that stop you. Rock on!
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We got satellites out in space
we gotta launch them every day
what if yours was to hit mine
who would we go to for this crime?
Space does not belong to one nation
It does not lie under a single state's jurisdiction
So tell me who will be burned
when people die in condos on Saturn?
... Space lawyer... space lawyer...
Space lawyer won't you come
And tell us who done wrong
Space lawyer wont you say
the other guy's gotta pay pay pay...
Mikey Mel and the JD's
FAA's Nield on The Space Show
As our gracious host of The Space Show, Dr. Livingston says, "George is always a fascinating guest who makes his world simple for the rest of us to understand." (That's right, he's not a lawyer. ;)
If you miss the program, no worries -- grab the podcast. Meanwhile, here's the MP3 of George's last visit to the Show (July 10th, 2005) during which Patti Smith's deputy discussed AST and its regulatory mission, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, the RLV launch licensing process, guidelines for spaceflight participants and flight crews, experimental launch permits and lots more.
Listen to FAA before you blast off. (It's the law.)
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IMAGE: A fine photo of XCOR's Randall Clague and Jeff Greason receiving RLV launch license from George (at Space Access '04 in Phoenix, Arizona).
Pursuit of happiness
July 4, 2007: Happy birthday, America!
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Hubble image: Red, white & blue of galaxy NGC 4449, 12.5 million light-years away, where "stellar 'fireworks' are going off all the time." (Released yesterday, this Independence Day offering was actually taken in November 2005 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys.) (NASA / ESA / STScI)
Settling space disputes
So far I like the title; feedback later -- the book only came out in April (and where was my advance copy?)
By way of a preview: Dr. Goh "looks at an international and interdisciplinary approach in dealing with dispute resolution in space activities" and "proposes a workable legal framework for dispute resolution in outer space, together with a mechanism for enforcement and verification." We're going to need it.
And via her publisher, a little background on the author:
Dig in. Of course the best way to deal with disputes is to avoid them in the first place. But then, what would the lawyers do?
Gérardine Meishan Goh, Ph.D. (2007) in International Law, Leiden University, the Netherlands, is research fellow at the Institute of Air and Space Law, University of Cologne, Germany. She manages and is the co-editor of the Cologne Commentary on Space Law (CoCoSL), a project conducted jointly between the Institute and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Gérardine is also a business development and legal consultant for the satellite-based geo-information services industry.