Introduction

Emergent high-technologies pose a dilemma for policymakers of modern society. In their incubatory forms, these technologies are without defined and accepted standards – technical or social – of design and operation. Without such standards, high-technologies cannot be fully “understood;” and if they cannot be fully understood, can they be fully controlled? There is a clash between emerging technologies’ “novelty” – their being not fully known or assessed – and  the modern regulatory state that has developed to govern their development and consumption; a social mechanism which seeks to preserve a general uniformity of behavior and cultural norm (order) and reliability of that behavior (control).[i]

The tension between novelty and regulation is especially true for high-risk technologies, which present a specter of social harm. The consumption of high-risk technologies – who may use them; how may they use them; when can they use them; and what, if any, protections they receive when using them – therefore becomes a value statement; a judgment of individual and collective tolerance for potential costs and an evaluation of individual and collective benefit. Permitting or prohibiting use of a high-risk technology, and in what shape and form, is a social dialogue that extends beyond the technology itself, reflecting broader cultural values, contexts, and concerns. As such, a decision on the nature and scope of regulation is ultimately a decision on social power – which actor has authority over decisions to mitigate or not mitigate risk, which actor has autonomy in decisions to assume risk.

In short, the debate over use and regulation of high-risk high-technologies is about legitimacy – i.e. socially recognition, acknowledgement, and acceptance of power in its various contours and dimensions. When not all is known or can be accounted for in the character of a technology, who is (and who is not) the proper arbiter of its risk? What legal and institutional frameworks for managing that technology confer legitimacy to its use, justifying risks to involved and uninvolved public against potential costs? These arrangements are, like perceptions of risk, socially constructed – beholden to ideological predispositions about the interplay of safety and society.

Commercial human spaceflight offers a salient case-study on legitimacy as a frame for discussion of risk and safety. In recent years, vigorous debate has occurred over the safety standards involved in private flight of humans to, from, and in outer space – particularly, whether the government should regulate passenger safety and spacecraft design. Spaceflight is an overtly risky activity.[ii] Despite a history of 50 years of human activity in space, the space environment’s effects on the human physiology is still not well understood. More importantly, the technological hurdles of accessing and using the space environment necessitate vastly complex systems of hardware and people, often with unclear or unanticipated single points of failure. The historical chances of casualty in human spaceflight are larger than 1 in 70.[iii]

This paper explores the debate on commercial human spaceflight safety through the lens of social construction – finding that the debate is not grounded on spaceflight technology itself, or the activity of spaceflight, but on differently held constructs of safety, society, and risk. The disparate perspectives expressed in the debate arrive at disparate prognoses for what risk identification and management regime (or lack thereof) is appropriate and acceptable for this risky high-technology’s use – that is, which confers legitimacy to the enterprise. This paper does not set out to arrive at an answer to the debate, but rather to explore its foundational dimensions beyond the sound-bites, floor statements, and policy proposals that have to-date shaped it.

Spaceflight Participant Safety & Regulation – The Legal Context & Debate

The prospect of an industry for commercial human spaceflight began to materialize in the early 2000s, with the first private launch of humans into outer space successfully carried out in 2004[iv]. Responding to the nascent field, the United States Congress passed a law – the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 (CSLAA) – which established a foundational legal and regulatory regime to govern private human spaceflight. As signed into law, the CSLAA established a regime premised on passenger informed consent: with vehicle operators required to inform spaceflight participants about the risks of flight – including detailing the safety record of their vehicle and stating that it is not government-certified as safe – and spaceflight participants assuming and consenting to the risks of participating.[v]

The FAA’s safety regime is limited to protecting the safety of the uninvolved public; regulations may not be promulgated to specify design criteria or practices of passenger-carrying spacecraft so as to address or mitigate risk. While the FAA can create training and medical standards for passengers and crew, it cannot restrict or prohibit “design features or operating practices” unless these have been found to “have resulted in a serious or fatal injury… to crew or spaceflight participants during a licensed or permitted commercial human space flight.”[vi] This has colloquially come to be known as the industry “learning period.”

Contentious debate during the CSLAA’s consideration was demonstrative of starkly different regulatory philosophies regarding high-risk activities – and of values held on the proper nature and scope of a government’s role in risk mitigation for nascent high-technologies.[vii] At the time, the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Commercial Space expressed the view that passengers “should be able to board their vehicles with the same freedom as the stunt pilots who pioneered commercial aviation.”[viii] This perspective was mirrored by the legislation’s proponents; one, Rep. Boehlert, described the rationale behind the learning period and informed consent as of the industry being at,

“the stage when it is the preserve of visionaries and daredevils and adventurers… these are people who do not expect and should not expect to be protected by the government. Such protection would only stifle innovation…[ix] [The bill strikes] the right balance, protecting the public without stifling the industry… and sets the industry on a path toward greater regulation as it develops.”[x]

Others, though, viewed passenger safety and vehicle risk in starkly different ways. Rep. Oberstar and Rep. DeFazio, both leading members of the House of Representatives’ committee overseeing transportation, analogized commercial human spaceflight to traditional aviation. Rep. Oberstar, in opposition to the bill, circulated a criticism stating that the legislation’s safety standard,

“amounts to the codification of what has been come to be known in aviation safety parlance as the ‘tombstone mentality’: don’t regulate until there are fatalities. For many years, many of my colleagues and I have criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for waiting until after a disaster to take safety actions, and have urged a more proactive safety oversight…[xi] I do not think that safety regulation is ever silly.”[xii]

The safety regulation learning period established by the CSLAA was set to “sunset” (expire) in 2012. However, the commercial spaceflight industry did not materialize at the pace expected in 2004. Indeed, no spaceflights of private passengers – paid customers or company crew – occurred in the years following the 2004 flights. Amid industry concern, and Congressional receptivity, that not enough data had been collected to properly inform the FAA on the character of potential regulation, the learning period was granted two extensions – setting it to expire in 2015.[xiii] By that time, many in industry were again petitioning the Congress to extend the learning period, arguing that it was still premature to issue regulations given the lack of flight experience. Jeff Greason, Chairman of XCOR – a commercial suborbital human spaceflight company – noted at the time that “we don’t want to start regulating based on the shape of the industry today in a fashion that prevents it from evolving.”[xiv]

However, the FAA stated its opposition to any extension of the learning period, with the FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space saying that “we appear to be just kicking the can down the road.”[xv],[xvi] He proposed that the development of industry-consensus standards could enable the government to have a reference point in later regulations – an approach similar to the regulatory regime in sport aircraft “that would prevent an overreaction and hastily crafted, inappropriate regulations in response to some high-profile accident.”[xvii] Others, such as Mike Griffin, a former NASA Administrator, noted that it was “inconceivable that we’re going to have a lesser regulatory structure for commercial human spaceflight than we have for my Beach Bonanza airplane.”[xviii]

Nonetheless, in late 2015, Congress again took up an extension to the learning period – reinvigorating the debate over passenger safety. The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 (CSLCA), as introduced, proposed an extension of the learning period for 5 years; later amendment to the legislation extended it out to 2023. The legislation also extended “cross-waiver” provisions to spaceflight participants through 2025, requiring them to waive away right for legal action against the United States government for damages in the event of an accident, except under circumstances of gross negligence.[xix],[xx]

Much like the debate over the CSLAA, there was strong disagreement over the CSLCA extending limitations on safety regulation of human spaceflight. Rep. Grayson, during the legislation’s consideration, argued that “[a]ny limitation of liability, any indemnification, is wrong… [w]e invite an accident, we invite a tragedy, if we limit liability.”[xxi] The provisions were “corporate welfare,” he said, that creates a “moral hazard.”[xxii] The CEO of the American Association for Justice issued a statement saying “this bill is terrifying because it says certain corporations can’t be held accountable if they cause any kind of harm to others.”[xxiii]

The CSLCA directed the FAA, through industry groups, to facilitate the development of voluntary industry consensus safety standards – a process that was begun in 2016.[xxiv] The process of industry-developed standards was lauded, by some, as demonstrative of industry commitment to safety – “establishing good, effective safety, engineering, and management standards in a voluntary industry association is the hallmark of any reputable and mature industry.”[xxv] In the words of one executive of a commercial spaceflight company, developing standards for safety “really is on our shoulders, and in terms of us having a safe place in the market, we take that seriously, we want to put our own families on board, we take that very seriously. So we are holding ourselves to internal standards.”[xxvi] Yet others see the CSLAA’s mandate against government-issued safety regulations as anathema to safety, regardless of industry’s production of (or stated commitment to produce) safety standards – “industries that lobby for immunity from accountability might as well hang up a sign saying they don’t trust themselves to be safe.”[xxvii]

Parsing the Debate

While the distinct and singular policy issue of government regulation of human spaceflight safety seems “settled” for now – with the CSLCA extending the learning period through 2023, still 5 years out at the time of this writing – the debate surely is not. Indeed, the evident philosophical disagreements on risk, safety, and regulation are no more reconciled now than they were at time of consideration of the CSLAA or CSLCA. What can be made of the debate’s key points?

First is the disagreement over the commercial human spaceflight as more closely resembling a “thrill-seeking” industry or a “common carriage” industry, which connotes legal and liability statuses and establishes implicit rights and duties between the provider and the passenger.[xxviii] This difference, as debated, was framed in terms of practical analogies – an “adventurer” knowingly and willingly “signing up” for a potentially dangerous joyride, similar to a skydiver, or a paying passenger purchasing a ride on a mode of technological transportation, similar to a traveler using commercial aviation.

Underscoring these different distinctions is a crucial value-judgment on assessment and acceptance of risk. It is an element of our cultural perception toward acceptable risk that in “everyday” activities, such as a vacationer boarding a major airline, one cannot be properly informed of all borne risks and be prepared to waive away rights to safety – nor should they. Flying is, indeed, a risky activity – as is driving, or smoking, or crossing the street – but it is conferred with legitimacy through the auspice of a safety regime consisting of government oversight and regulation. Conversely, it is generally socially accepted that an individual willingly participating in a “novel” or “thrill-seeking” activity – a (sometimes infrequent) activity perceived to have unique risks and/or unique costs which distinctly attract or detract participation based on one’s opportunity-cost assessment of its value – may do so when personally aware of what’s at stake. These activities are legitimized by an individual’s autonomy to make value-judgments and decisions based on their rational self-interest and cognition.

In other words, and at the crux of the issue, is a philosophical difference on a key question: who has the legitimate authority and autonomy to make distinctions and decisions about risk assessment and management in the high-risk, high-technology activity that is commercial human spaceflight: the passenger, or the government? Similarly, who has legitimate authority in ensuring operational safety, communicating risk to passengers, and mediating conflicts between the two: the industry, or the regulator?

This raises the second key question of the debate – who can be entrusted to frame, bound, and design the processes and characteristics of safety in commercial human spaceflight? At present, safety “regulation” is being attempted through industry-led voluntary safety consensus standards. But, in our social conception and construct of safety – viewed and understood particularly through the lens of industrial competition, market economics, and corporate self-interest – can the operator reasonably be expected to govern itself; is it a legitimate safety “regulator”? Conversely, does (and can) government oversight and regulation ensure safety and mitigate risk for a developmentally immature industry with uncertain technologies and unknown risk propositions? Given this uncertainty, does government regulation merely offer an “illusion” of legitimacy?

These are, again, value-laden, ideologically-driven, culturally contextual determinations. They belie a single “correct,” objective answer. They do, however warrant a deeper investigation of the concepts of risk, technological failure, and regulation.

On Risk

Fundamental to questions of safety and regulation – and the roles, authority, and corresponding legitimacy of certain social actors to adjudicate the interplay between them – is the concept of “risk.” Risk generally refers to the potential for an undesirable or unanticipated event, and/or a lack of knowledge of the unknown.[xxix] The calculus of risk pertains to things of value, often to one’s person or property, and the possibility to lose them[xxx] – in insurance law, for example, risk refers to the chance of injury, damage, or loss of property.[xxxi] “Risk,” then, is broadly, a social construct – a determination of opportunity cost subject to culture, context, perceptions and communication.[xxxii]

Given that proponents of a limited safety regulatory regime for commercial human spaceflight analogize the industry to “thrill-seeking” ones, it is appropriate to consider risk in the context of “adventure.”[xxxiii] Risk is generally considered an important element of an “adventure activity,” in that it makes it worth a participant’s “time, resources, energy, and possibly even health and life;”[xxxiv] indeed, removing too much risk from adventure may subdue or negate the premise of the activity.[xxxv] The high value of an adventure experience may overcome a participant’s aversion to risk,[xxxvi] with each individual establishing and conducting their own opportunity-cost evaluation.[xxxvii] In short, risk-taking in “thrill-seeking” activities is very much a product of an individual’s desires measured against the threat of injury in satisfying those desires – a value-judgment framed by one’s personal context.

This, of course, is contingent on risk perception – a calculation of value in the participation in a high-risk activity. For activities that are deemed as very high value, an attempt to participate may be valued even at a low probability of success or high cost of failure. Risk perception and calculus thereby “sorts” participants to levels of risk and safety that is appropriate and acceptable to their own values.[xxxviii] However, risk perception is not consistent; individuals tend to perceive risk to others as different or inconsistent to risk to themselves. They may under-perceive risk, leading to “unrealistic optimism,” and therefore assume more risk than they realize or anticipated in their opportunity-cost evaluation.[xxxix]

Risk perception in “thrill-seeking” activities, though skewed by individuals, can be managed the operators.[xl] This can be for the “positive” or the “negative” – with operators potentially “talking risks up” or downplaying their significance. This has consequence in the context of a spaceflight safety informed consent regime; in a litigation-oriented society such as the United States, informed consent must be written and documented with due regard to law lest it create the challenge of litigation for negligent nondisclosure.[xli] In the view of some, a “prudent operator” of a spaceflight system would disclose both events with a high likelihood of occurring and those with a low likelihood of occurring with severe consequence.[xlii] There runs the risk, however, of litigation-worried operators miring spaceflight participants in vast amounts of technical data or information when detailing the risk they are assuming – with description of individual risks becoming lost “noise” to the layperson.[xliii] A reasonable question posited is whether, “much like the fine print on a lengthy contract,” this could effectively nullify the “informed” nature of consent to participate in the risky activity.[xliv]

Moreover, the social construction of risk suggests that it is not simply a matter of individual autonomy or perception. Rather, it exists in the context of society’s interest in maintaining collective values. It can conflict with a society’s right to not be harmed as a consequence of an activity – especially one that cannot be abrogated of risk.[xlv]

This thus warrants the social evaluation of “acceptable” risk. The “acceptable” level of risk is a threshold below which risk will be tolerated; an “optimal” level is that at which the incremental cost of risk reduction equals the marginal reduction achieved in societal cost.[xlvi] Yet, as terms such as “acceptable” and “optimal” inherently suggest, these are value-laden and subjective determinations. Risks are calculated by meaningful probabilities; the perceived gravity of harm is a factor.[xlvii] Some activities may constitute high risk of harm, but with a low probability that such harm will occur; others may pose low risk of harm and equally low probability of occurrence. An acceptable risk can then be considered one whose perceived likelihood of a harmful event occurring is low, whose perceived consequence of a harmful event is slight, or whose perceived benefits are large enough that society is willing to be subjected to the risk the event could occur.[xlviii] Accordingly, this suggests a legal – and corresponding moral – social permission of voluntary and personal risk-taking through an individual’s capacity to be informed, make a decision, and consent to potential risk.[xlix]

Safety – and its regulated mandate or lack thereof – can therefore be considered contextual and flexible. Something is “safe” if it is socially deemed so; if its risks are socially decided to be acceptable.[l] The commonly-posed question for governments is – “how safe is safe enough?”[li] Of course, particularly risky activities can be or become accepted by the amount of value placed on it.[lii] This posits a second, equally important question – “how much value is value enough?”

“Value enough” is, of course, another subjective determination. Examined in the context of private human spaceflight, multiple value-laden inputs to that determination – informed by ideological and philosophical positions – may be posited. Is there more value in “fostering” the economic vitality or innovative capacity of the nascent industry by limiting regulatory burden and proscription, or in ensuring a maximal amount of safety for those who are involved in flights and their operation – along with those who are not? Is there more value in trusting the autonomy of the cognizant individual to willingly make risky decisions, or in protecting the individual from potential misrepresentations or miscalculations of burdens of risk to which they may subscribe? Is there more value in affording these risky private activities the opportunity to be carried out – even if they may risk public harm – or in restricting or outright banning them so as to ensure that the uninvolved public can enjoy its right to stay uninvolved from the actions of a non-public actor? These are deeply fundamental questions about causality, responsibility, and the role of individual, the business, the economy, and the state in society.[liii]

Whether the consumer of human spaceflight – the future paying passenger (or crew member) – will expect or demand more safety is currently unknown. Establishing a risk proposition for commercial human spaceflight in the present, and a corresponding level of safety acceptance, thereby requires a value-based, ideologically constructed legitimization of particular actors (in this case, the industry and individual) to carry out the presumed needed, but as of yet unclear, motions of risk assessment and management. Of course, it is equally unclear whether these actors, despite their legitimization, will be able to successfully carry out the safety promises and prerogatives they hold to the level socially deemed necessary.

The debate on risk is also demonstrative of ethically-framed conceptions of risk management, with advocates for strong and oversight and regulation generally ascribing to the framework of the “precautionary principle,” and those who advocate for an informed consent regime and voluntary standards ascribing to a utilitarian construct of safety.[liv] These disparate ethical perspectives on the legitimacy of risk managers have importance in the context of risk uncertainty and regulation.

On Technological Accidents, Uncertainty, & Regulation

Risk acceptance – “safe enough” – is, as noted, flexible. Results or perceptions of risk in the present do not necessarily correspond to those levels of risk in the past, nor are they indicative of future trends or circumstances.[lv] This is, in part, due to the inherent uncertainty involved in the risk ramifications of variable designs and operations of emerging high-technologies such as commercial human spacecraft. Uncertainty poses a particular challenge for commercial human spaceflight, as the evidence for risk of harm remains inconclusive while data is collected simultaneous to some measure of regulation ensuring public safety being promulgated.[lvi] Nonetheless, imputing defined risk to objects increases a sense of control and social order;[lvii] and an ability to control that risk thereby influences the degree of a risk’s social and political acceptance. In the context of how that risk is evaluated and valued – and its corresponding base level of “acceptability” – the imputation of risk on an object justifies the legitimization of certain particular actors to control it.

“Things” are “generally deemed risky or safe in and of themselves.”[lviii] This is evident in the discourse on safety standards for commercial human spaceflight – spacecraft are “risky,” as space is “risky.” These vehicles rely on “dangerous” methods of power and propulsion, and “effective” mechanisms to control and ensure passenger safety are undefined. In short, these machines and their inherent risk are depicted as quantifiable – in present, past, and future – by the people who govern them.[lix] The precautionary principle – as part of the broader discourse on the control of technology – favors a model of regulation that equates attention to risk reduction through regulatory compliance with “safety.”[lx] Under this presumed paradigm, formal rules – safety standards, approved designs – ensure value-free and consistent assessment of risk and risk mitigation.

However, it has been widely noted that managing technological risk is highly context-dependent;[lxi] pure technical risk analyses at any point in time are unlikely to provide much benefit to policymaker, regulator, or society at-large. The evolution of an emerging technology or system is challenging – if not impossible – to accurately predict.[lxii] This problem is compounded by systems of incredible technical and human complexity, as is the case with human-rated spacecraft operating in unfamiliar profiles and environments. Such systems can chaotically fail in unexpected ways, sometimes set off by a minor “glitch.”[lxiii]

These “disasters waiting to happen” are inadvertently built into complex systems, often the result of confusing or unanticipated interactions.[lxiv] “Normal accidents,” as they are known, are bound to occur – because complex disaster patterns can generally only be translated in hindsight.[lxv] Accordingly, systems may not be considered completely reliable nor safe until they have been operated through their full profile of potentiality – until considerable uncertainty has been dispelled on their operation and technical characteristics.

Even then, a machine is more than a collection of moving parts – it is a “congealed embodiment of an entire history of social assumptions, conventions, interests, and cultural practices.”[lxvi] Blame does not rest on a malfunctioning object – people are principally responsible for accidents; “normal accidents” are not the fault of a machine – they are the fault of people creating, and operating in and around, complex systems without the foresight of potential fault-trees or externalities. As such, responsibility for safety – and for blame – is political and cultural, not inherently technical. Risk and accidents are the manifestation of processes and cultures that keeps actors unaware of a system’s or decision’s full complexity, and unaware of all the possibilities at which a complex system can fail.[lxvii]

The critical interrelationship of people and machine in risk and safety effectively suggests that regulation is not a process of governing technologies, but rather governing people. Technological practices are incapable of being governed by “rules,” because compliance is ultimately an issue of human judgment – interpretation – by the regulator and the regulated.[lxviii] In essence, risk assessment and mitigation in the regulatory context can be considered subjective and bounded by its practitioners’ perspectives, knowledge, and constraints – “as much art as science.”[lxix]

Equally important is the relationship between the regulator and the regulated. Limited by technical expertise and resources, regulators often cannot be closely involved in many of the tests of technological assessment. Rather, they certify and oversee the representatives – usually, technical experts and insiders from industry with unique knowledge of novel systems and technologies – who may. This “second-order” regulation manifests from a need to make complex judgments in an environment where rules, as noted, are “interpretively flexible.”[lxx] In essence, the organizations producing high-risk technologies often play active roles in their own regulation, even under a government-mandated and overseen regulatory regime. The regulator become a perceived “virtuous witness,” who can attest to and presumably ensure the virtue and validity of these expert secondaries.[lxxi]

This simple reality – be it distinct “regulatory capture” or mere necessity given the techno-social complexities of high-technology systems – belies a key public perception, manifest in political and social discourse, of the “regulator” as an “independent expert… and disinterested arbiter of objective facts.”[lxxii] Of course, the part can still be seen as played up by the regulator – that regulation is “performative as well as functional” – that it is “better to speak grandly of a rigorous method enforced by disciplinary peers, canceling the biases of the knower and leading ineluctably to valid conclusions.”[lxxiii] Nonetheless, if rules and numbers convey legitimacy in that they constrain action or design – limiting discretion when credibility is “suspect” (as, looking at the discourse, the credibility of the industry to regulate itself is) – then the suggestion that rules may be non-constrictive, subject to the regulated expert’s interpretation and subjective flexibility, indicates that the core issue of credibility is not, and perhaps cannot be, resolved.[lxxiv]

What is all of this to suggest? Principally, that a belief that public regulatory institutions and their processes have inherent meaningful efficacy is based on subjective perceptions, value-based assumptions, and ideological conceptions of the role of public bodies in overseeing and governing private activities. The notion that a public regulator can and should act as a credible “referee,” verifying and validating the practices of self-interested private actors for the benefit of the public good, is demonstrated in the debate over commercial human spaceflight safety standards and held as a close normative expectation – even if it is not constructed by reality.

Nor is this affirmative belief in public regulatory institutions premised on clearly objective metrics in the context of commercial human spaceflight. The critical literature on safety in highly complex, high-risk, high-technology systems and technologies indicates key points – that, in absence of operational experience, it is near-impossible to effectively predict, and thereby regulate, the evolution of emerging high-technologies such as spacecraft; that, for highly complex technologies, the inherent interplay of human-machine systems makes an unanticipated or unpredicted accident or incident probable, if not inevitable; that regulatory institutions often rely on “second-degree” regulation, effectively subsuming the regulated industry’s expert and niche understandings, perceptions, and perspectives in the process of establishing, enforcing, and verifying regulations.

This is to say that the legitimization of a public institution to regulate emerging technologies is “illusory.” A public regulator issuing safety regulations is not, inherently and naturally, more effective or “safer” than an industry group producing voluntary consensus standards. Equally so, an industry group producing voluntary consensus standards is not, inherently and naturally, less effective or “riskier” than a public regulator. All is contingent not on the “public or private nature” of the group or institution, but on its processes, its politics, and its culture – whether it can or cannot navigate systematic complexity in order to identify, assess, manage, and mitigate all possibilities of system failure and all types of risk. 

Accordingly, this legitimization is foundationally premised on socially and ideologically constructed expectations and concerns about the role of the private actor, vis-à-vis the public actor, in the trade-space of the public good. Can private actors be trusted to uphold public safety and strive for protection of the public good? Can public institutions properly arbitrate risk and safety impartially, objectively, without influence or capture by externalities? Ultimately, this debate over legitimization of public regulators is – like with risk – a debate over politics and worldview, of trust or suspicion of individual autonomy versus the collective right, the private actor versus the public sector, which in turn shapes understandings of concepts such as safety, the public good, precaution, utility.    

Concluding Observations

As noted in the introduction, this essay has not attempted to arrive at policy prescriptions or answers regarding the complicated debate over commercial human spaceflight safety standards. Those are better suited for mediums such as op-ed pages and floor statements. Rather, it explored how socially-constructed perceptions and ideologies enable and force the legitimization of certain actors to oversee value-laden concepts such as risk, safety, and regulation.

This analysis is important in the context of the politically-charged debate over commercial spaceflight safety, and more broadly in debates over the proper evaluation and management of risk and safety for emerging, risky, high-technologies. Though politically convenient, digestible, and narratively resonate, the debate is not simply and merely about “self-interested capitalists against accountable public safety;” “the right of thrill-seekers and adventurers against the heavy hand of a nanny-state;” “innovation and business against stifling regulation;” “money against people.” Rather, it is about fundamental worldviews and conceptions of the individual, the economy, the state, and the public. These worldviews are correct or incorrect depending on perspective; as social constructs contingent on culture and context, they are relative. Most importantly, they are starkly demonstrative of how disparate and contradictory prognoses of the use and limits of technology may be among different, though equally valid, perceptions.


Works Cited


[i] Sara Langston (2016), “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight,” in 4 New Space 2. Pg. 84.

[ii] Molly Macauley (2005), “Flying in the Face of Uncertainty: Human Risk in Space Activities,” in 6 Chicago Journal of International Law 1.

[iii] Michael Elliott Leybovich, “A Technoregulatory Analysis of Government Regulation and Oversight in the United States for the Protection of Passenger Safety in Commercial Human Spaceflight,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, February 2009. Pg. 76.

[iv] Rebecca Anderson and Michael Peacock, “Ansari X-Prize: A Brief History and Background,” NASA, February 2010.

[v] Timothy Hughes & Eta Rosenberg (2005), “The Evolution of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004,” in 31 Journal of Space Law 1. Pgs. 51-53.

[vi] “A Technoregulatory Analysis of Government Regulation and Oversight in the United States for the Protection of Passenger Safety in Commercial Human Spaceflight.” Pgs. 42-43.

[vii] “The Evolution of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004.”

[viii] “Flying in the Face of Uncertainty: Human Risk in Space Activities.” Pg. 138.                                           

[ix] “The Evolution of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004.” Pg. 46.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid. Pg. 47.

[xii] Ibid. Pg. 48.

[xiii] Loren Grush, “Private space companies avoid FAA oversight again, with Congress’ blessing,” The Verge. November 16, 2015.

[xiv] Jeff Foust, “Commercial Spaceflight Industry Pushes for Another Extension of Regulatory ‘Learning Period’,” SpaceNews. April 6, 2015.

[xv] Jeff Foust, “Industry, FAA at odds over extension of “learning period” for commercial spaceflight safety regulations,” Space Politics. February 2014.

[xvi] “Commercial Spaceflight Industry Pushes for Another Extension of Regulatory ‘Learning Period’.”

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Jeff Foust, “House Passes Commercial Space Bill,” SpaceNews. November 16, 2015.

[xx] Michael Dodge, “Who’s on your Space Vehicle? – a Legal Primer for the Changing State of Space Exploration in the United States,” American Bar Association. 2016. Pg. 4.

[xxi] Jeff Foust, “Congress Launches Commercial Space Legislation,” The Space Review. May 2015.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Jeff Foust, “Industry committee to start work on human spaceflight safety standards,” The Space Review. October 2016.

[xxv] George Neild & Kelvin Coleman, “Industry Standards for Commercial Space Transportation,” Federal Aviation Administration. September 2013. Pg. 4.

[xxvi] Tim Fernholz, “Space tourism companies are going to write their own safety rules because the US government can’t,” Quartz. March 2017.

[xxvii] Amanda Robert, “Commercial Spaceflight Industry Faces Uncertain Legal, Regulatory Environment,” Forbes. May 2017.

[xxviii] “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight.” Pg. 84

[xxix] S Hansson (2013), “The Ethics of Risk.” New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pgs. 7–8.

[xxx] S. Priest & R. Baillie (1987), “Justifying the Risk to Others: The Real Razor’s Edge,” in 10 Journal of Experiential Education 1, pgs. 16-22.

[xxxi] “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight.” Pg. 85.

[xxxii] K. Date (1992), “Myths of Nature: Culture and the social construction of risk,” in 48 Journal of Social Issues 4. Pgs. 21-37.

[xxxiii] “A Technoregulatory Analysis of Government Regulation and Oversight in the United States for the Protection of Passenger Safety in Commercial Human Spaceflight.” Pgs. 22-25.

[xxxiv] A. Ewert (1989), “Outdoor Adventure Pursuits: Foundations, Models, and Theories.” Columbus, Ohio: Publishing Horizons.

[xxxv] C. Ryan (2003), “Risk Acceptance in Adventure Tourism – Paradox and Context,” in J. Wilks, & S. J. Page, Managing Tourist Health and Safety in the New Millenium. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science. Pgs. 55 – 66.

[xxxvi] J. F. Meier (1978), “Is the Risk Worth Taking?” in 49 Journal of Physical Education and Recreation 4. Pgs. 31-33.

[xxxvii] A. Ewert & S. Hollenhorst (1989), “Testing the Adventure Model: Empirical Support for a Model of Risk Recreation Participation,” in 21 Journal of Leisure Research 2. Pgs. 124-139.

[xxxviii] J. Atkinson (1957), “Motivational Determinants of Risk-Taking Behavior,” in 64 Psychological Review 6. Pgs. 359-372.

[xxxix] L. Sjoberg, (2000), “Factors in Risk Perception,” in 20 Risk Analysis 1. Pgs. 1-11.

[xl] J. Swarbrooke, (2003). “Adventure Tourism: The new frontier.” Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

[xli] “The Evolution of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004.” Pg. 53

[xlii] Ibid. Pg. 54.

[xliii] D. Nelkin, (1989). “Communicating Technological Risk: The Social Construction of Risk Perception,” in 10 Annual Review of Public Health. Pgs. 95-113.

[xliv] Ibid. Pg. 55.

[xlv] “Myths of Nature: Culture and the social construction of risk,” Pgs. 21-37.

[xlvi] M. Granger Morgan (1990), “Choosing and Managing Technology-Induced Risk,” in Readings in Risk, Glickman ed., Washington: Resources for the Future, Pg. 18.

[xlvii] “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight.” Pg. 85.

[xlviii] D. Krewski (2002), “Acceptable risk”, in Encyclopedia of Public Health.

[xlix] “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight.” Pg. 85.

[l] W. W. Lowrance, (1976), “Of Acceptable Risk: Science and the Determination of Safety.” Los Angeles, CA: William Kaufmann, Inc.

[li] B. Fischhoff, P. Slovic, S. Lichtenstein, S. Read, & B. Combs (1978), “How safe is safe enough? A psychometric study of attitudes towards technological risks and benefits,” in 9 Policy Sciences 2. Pgs. 127-152.

[lii] J. Arnould (2011), “Icarus’ Second Chance: The Basis and Perspectives of Space Ethics,” New York: Springer. Pg. 47.

[liii] S. Jasanoff (2012), “The songlines of risk,” in Science and Public Reason. New York: Routledge. Pg. 139.

[liv] “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight.” Pgs. 88, 91.

[lv] H. J. Otway (1982), “Beyond Acceptable Risk: On the Social Acceptability of Technologies,” in 14 Policy Sciences. Pgs. 247-256

[lvi] “Space Travel: Risk, Ethics and Governance in Commercial Spaceflight.” Pg. 88.

[lvii] “The songlines of risk.”

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] John Downer (2010), “Trust and technology: the social foundations of aviation regulation,” in 61 The British Journal of Sociology 1. Pg. 90.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] “Beyond Acceptable Risk: On the Social Acceptability of Technologies.”

[lxii] S. Jasanoff (1986), “Risk Management and Political Culture: A Comparative Study of Science in the Policy Context.” New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

[lxiii] B. Faulkner (2001). “Towards a Framework for Tourism Disaster Management,” in 22 Tourism Management 2. Pgs. 135-147.

[lxiv] S. D. Sagan (1993), “The Limits of Safety.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[lxv] C. Perrow (1984), “Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[lxvi] “The songlines of risk.” Pg. 139.

[lxvii] Ibid.

[lxviii] “Trust and technology: the social foundations of aviation regulation.” Pg. 87.

[lxix] B. D. Goldstein (1996), “Risk Assessment as an Indicator for Decision Making,” In R. Hahn, Risks, Costs, and Lives Saved: Getting Better Results from Regulation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

[lxx] T. Pinch & W. Bijker (1984), “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other,” in 14 Social Studies of Science.

[lxxi] “Trust and technology: the social foundations of aviation regulation.” Pg. 95.

[lxxii] Ibid. Pg. 89.

[lxxiii] Ibid. Pg. 90.

[lxxiv] Ibid. Pg. 91.