That’s the recursive bit of wisdom that Douglas Hofstadter came up with, that goes “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”
Jeff Foust has a good example of it today, as he examines the state of the suborbital industry. It looks now like no one is likely to enter commercial service prior to 2010, unless Armadillo can make it. Which brings up a little problem.
When the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA) was passed in 2004, the industry got regulatory relief for eight years–until 2012–in which FAA-AST would not regulate the vehicles with respect to passenger safety, as long as there were no accidents involving passenger loss. This was in recognition of the fact that a) the agency didn’t really know how to do that and b) if it attempted to do so, the industry might be still born as a result of a costly and time-consuming regulatory overburden. The eight-year period was provided to allow the companies time to develop and test vehicle design and operational concepts, with informed consent of the passengers, that would provide a basis for the development of such regulations as the industry matured (as occurred in the aviation industry in the twenties and thirties). In light of the SS1 flight in fall of that year, there was an expectation that there would be other vehicles flying in another two or three years (as Jeff notes–Virgin was predicting revenue service in 2007), which would have provided a five-year period for this purpose.
But if few, or none are flying until 2010, that leaves only two years before the FAA’s regulatory power kicks in, which will be an insufficient amount of time to meet the intended objectives of the original maturing period.
Assuming that the logic still holds (and it certainly does for me, and I assume most of the industry and the Personal Spaceflight Federation) the most sensible thing to do would be to simply extend the period out to, say, 2018. Unfortunately (at least in regard to this issue), the most sensible thing is unlikely to happen.
In 2006, control of the Congress passed to the Democrats, which means that Jim Oberstar of Wisconsin took over as chairman of the relevant committee. He was opposed to the regulatory relief, railing against it as a “tombstone mentality” (whatever that means). He was unmoved by the argument that overregulating now would save passengers, but only at the cost of none of them ever getting to fly. Being in the minority at the time, he lost the battle, but now that he’s in charge, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get an extension from him. In fact, even an attempt to do so might result in losing it altogether if the issue is revisited under his jurisdiction.
For those hoping for what would seem to require a miracle–Republicans regaining control of at least the House, this would be one more reason to wish for that, if they’re fans of this nascent industry. Either that, or at least hope that Oberstar (and his partner in dumbness, Vic Fazio) moves to a different committee.
Not that it affects the point in any way, but as a commenter points out, I goofed above. Oberstar is from Minnesota. I could have sworn he was a Badger.