NASA Doesn’t Regulate Launches

Over at the new space blog Hypotheses Non Fingo, one of the posters writes:

That leads me to another question – NASA in the US is designed to regulate space travel and space launches (among its many other points of interest) and each country that’s involved in space exploration has its own government organization designated to do the same. So how do we coordinate with all those private companies that have the ability to build their own spacecraft? If many different organizations have the ability to launch – do we set forth regulations on safety specifications, times to launch, etc? I think this will become an issue in the near future, especially with the push for space passengers.

Well, I don’t know the answer to the question, but there’s a misapprehension here. NASA is neither “designed” or chartered to regulate space launch (thank the heavens–NASA’s enough of a problem as it is without giving it legal authority to regulate its competition). NASA “regulates” only its own launches (and judging by the contents of the Gehman Report, doesn’t do a very good job of it…).

Regulation of commercial launch is the job of the Department of Transportation. It’s currently done specifically by the FAA, but that’s not required by the enabling legislation–it was simply a decision made by the Clinton administration that could be undone by this one if it so chose. I in fact think that it might be a good idea to get it out of the FAA and reestablish the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to report directly to the secretary, as was the case through the late eighties and early nineties. But to allow NASA to do it would both require legislation, and be a disaster for the future of space transportation.