U.S. House Passes Bill Allowing Negligence In Commercial Space Travel
“Launching rockets into space is inherently dangerous,” observes U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson. The Armagh Planetarium lists things such as space debris, cosmic rays, flaws in spacesuits, accidents during launch and re-entry, breathing in needle sharp moon dust, and being sent off hurtling through the vacuum of space as a consequence of letting go of a spaceship for even a moment. The thing about space, though, is that it’s very, very big, and largely unexplored, so the unknown dangers of space travel are almost certainly much greater in number than the dangers we know about.
In the face of this risk, you can probably guess what the U.S. House of Representatives did yesterday. They voted to remove commercial space operations from all liability for harm that comes to passengers on their spaceships – even if the harm comes from negligence of sensible safeguards for predictable risks to life and limb.
The legislation was the SPACE Act of 2015, H.R. 2262, which will, if signed into law, make it a legal requirement for travelers on commercial space flights to sign legal waivers of all rights to compensation for themselves or their families in case of an accident.
Despite our best efforts, and over 50 years of technology development, accidents still occur. Just last year the U.S. commercial launch industry suffered two serious accidents, one of which resulted in a very unfortunate death. I cannot support a commercial space bill that minimizes the issue of safety, like H.R. 2262 does, said Eddie Bernice Johnson, explaining her opposition to the bill.
Unfortunately, most of her colleagues weren’t bothered by the legislation’s encouragement of death trap spaceships. The SPACE Act of 2015 passed by a vote of 284 to 133.