Ax-1 staff

The future of human spaceflight security is in the hands of Congress

Michael Lopez-Alegria is a retired NASA astronaut and is now the chief astronaut at Axiom Space, a marketing company based in Houston. The ideas presented are his professional opinion drawing on over thirty years of experience in the local industry.

My return to space as mission commander for the first fully commercial manned space station on the International Space Station (ISS), Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), quickly reminded me that everyday work in microgravity builds the best. life on Earth. My colleagues and I engaged in an incredible amount of science and STEM outreach in just two weeks while on board, just as I had 15 years earlier as a NASA astronaut. And now the expansion of commercial capabilities will only increase the number of research, science and technology demonstrations carried out in the area by orders of magnitude.

A key success born of these efforts rests on policy and legislation that has created the way for private companies to develop human air transport systems – a sea change from 50 years ago, when such systems were limited and run by governments. Included in this historic legislation was the establishment of a “learning period,” in which the commercial space network industry was provided with a period in which no regulation would be imposed that would hinder innovation and the development of new systems. That scholarship is scheduled to expire this year, meaning the law needs to be updated, or it will expire.

Ax-1 staff
The four private astronauts of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, (from left) Mark Pathy, Larry Connor, Michael López-Alegría and Eytan Stibbe, before their April 8, 2022 launch aboard Crew Dragon to the space station. Credit: Post Axiom

Congress has a choice to make this transition: to reauthorize the “study period” to put the nation on a smooth path to secure a security framework that matches the maturity of the industry, or let the “study period” expire, which puts the future of commercial human spaceflight in jeopardy. – and America’s leadership in an area of ​​great concern – at great risk.

Human spaceflight has long been a passion of mine, and participant safety is clearly near and dear to my heart. It is a privilege to serve as the chair of ASTM’s efforts on commercial aerospace standards. ASTM is a globally recognized standards development organization that works with industry, government, and other stakeholders to develop internationally accepted standards that can be used by businesses and governments. Consensus standards have proven fundamental to the safety and success of many industries, including consumer products, aviation, and medical devices, and are a powerful tool to help make commercial human spaceflight safer as companies work to make space more accessible than ever. in advance.

The space industry is taking lessons learned from previous human flight attempts and recent innovations, and applying them to the unique types of flying vehicles currently and in development. Each company brings expertise to how their system works and why it works. By sharing, collaborating, and agreeing on what needs to be standardized, the entire business becomes safer. These standards are flexible and can be updated as the business grows.

The continued development of these standards is the best option to enhance safety in commercial aviation rather than allowing a “learning period” to expire. This approach allows real-life industry experts to work together, with active participation and consultation from government regulators, to define standards that promote safety and are appropriate for industry use. Furthermore, under the National Technology Transfer and Improvement Act of 1995, future Federal regulators can identify the best standards to help the industry develop as a final regulation.

On the other hand, if the rule is introduced too soon, we risk setting guidelines based on too little experience and discouraging innovation at a time when the industry is not yet fully mature. Long-term transparency, stability, and predictability in human spaceflight management will be important one day but progressing to a “common carrier” style of human spaceflight management now will have a negative impact on innovation and business success.

Congress should support the US trade space industry and the thousands of high-tech American jobs it has created through a flexible regulatory framework that allows leapfrogging in our technological development. The statutory “study period” is set to end at the end of September this year. We have the opportunity to work together through government innovation in governance and business partnerships to support a thriving local economy in a time of increasing global competition. I encourage Congress to consider taking a step forward that adopts a voluntary standards program, consistent with the industry’s maturity, while keeping the door open to what the future of the regulatory space will look like once the industry achieves the normal cadence of human spaceflight and a different set of launch vehicles. and spaceships.

Together we can find a solution that ensures our global competitiveness, promotes innovation, and continues to lead the world in the safety of human spaceflight. Let’s work to chart that path forward together.

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