Congratulations go out to Felix Baumgartner (and the Red Bull Stratos team) for his record-setting high-altitude jump.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6xqgWVgAok&w=700]

Baumgartner’s successful jump will help prepare the way for suborbital citizen space exploration. The Stratos team is not only testing out spacesuit technology, which will be extremely important for suborbital flights; it is also helping to set public expectations regarding risk, safety, and regulation of citizen space exploration.

To quote the Federal Aviation Administration, “[FAA regulation of skydiving] is based on the assumption that any individual who chooses to skydive has assessed the dangers involved and assumes personal responsibility for his or her safety. The regulations… are intended to assure the safety of those not involved in the sport, including persons and property on the surface and other users of the airspace. The skydiving community is encouraged to adopt good operating practices and programs to avoid further regulation by the FAA.”

This regulatory model is very close to the “informed consent” model for spaceflight participants created by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Given the inherent risks and training requirements, spaceflight is more akin to skydiving than commercial airline travel. It will remain so for the foreseeable future. The informed consent model, therefore, is a good one. Unfortunately, it’s a model that many in the public and the space enthusiast community do not currently understand. Skydiving is an example we can point to in order to better inform the public.

The space community should also take note of the FAA’s admonition to the skydiving community. The freedom to fly does not come with out a price. We must self-regulate to ensure that best practices are followed for every aspect of operations, including equipment, maintenance, and training. If we fail to do so, we invite increased government regulation that may have negative consequences for the future of the industry.

Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

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