Rep. Rohrabacher's remarks from the 16th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference Wednesday, February 06, 2013
First, I would like to thank Dr. George Nield, and the FAA, for inviting me here today. I think you and your team are doing outstanding work, and your continued success will be critical to the American commercial space industry as we stay strong and grow stronger.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to address this crowd, and we’ve certainly been moving in the right direction recently. We continue to have successful launches, and our national record remains unblemished in protecting the general public. Of that, we should all be proud.
In our most significant recent legislative victory, we were able to take a noteworthy step toward Export Control Reform, while maintaining the necessary protections for national security. I appreciate the efforts of many of you, here in this room, to make that happen. That was truly a team effort, and it could not have happened without everyone pulling together to get it done.
And they say people don’t work together in Washington any more.
As we look to the coming year, I see Congress considering, and enacting, something that is long overdue – an authorization for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The commercial space transportation industry is critical to America, and we must make that clear.
It’s also important to note that Congress did not put this function within the FAA, but vested the Secretary of Transportation with this authority. The leadership of DOT and the FAA must keep this in mind, because the culture at FAA is based upon their mandate for passenger safety, which is different than the mandate for commercial space transportation.
The CSLA mandates that the Secretary promote as well as regulate commercial space transportation. Unlike aviation, commercial space is essentially a brand new industry. It is crucial that everyone involved realize that this industry requires a supportive government partner which focuses its safety concerns on uninvolved third parties.
Aviation is not spaceflight and spaceflight is not aviation. Congress and the people we represent expect a high level of safety regulations for passenger aviation. The FAA, which regulates but does not promote aviation, must have a different mindset than the FAA, which regulates and promotes spaceflight. Ultimately, if that proves too difficult for the FAA to reconcile, then we may need to consider moving this activity out of the FAA and back to the office of the Transportation Secretary.
When we enacted the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, we expected companies to build new vehicles and fly spaceflight participants right away. We wanted to hold off on creating new regulations in the absence of data about this emerging sector of the industry. So we created an eight-year window of opportunity for the private sector to build, test, and fly. Well, that eight year window has closed, and we were far too optimistic in our assessment. Not a single paying spaceflight participant has yet been flown on an American launch vehicle.
It is critical as we move forward that we do not create regulations in the absence of data. It is critical that we do not limit the activities of these companies without a clear and compelling reason to do so. But it is just as critical that the FAA and these companies communicate in clear ways about safety, about design, about developments within the industry, and about the future. I have heard that some people think the FAA, because they aren’t allowed to create crew safety regulations, that they can’t even have a conversation with a company. I can assure you, as the author of this legislation, that was never the intent of Congress. And we will work to make it clear – even in the absence of regulations, those lines of communication can be open, must be open, between industry and regulators.
Sometimes it is necessary to look to the past in order to see the future. As with the early days of aviation, and the early days of oceanic navigation, we are on the cusp of something great. A revolution that will change not only what it means to fly, but will fundamentally change the human experience. We are about to reach such heights that humans will soon spread across the solar system. That is because of the work of the men and women in this room.
Soon, of course, is a flexible word. And we have it within our power to enable this revolution to happen in the coming years, or to prevent it for centuries. We must be careful how we proceed, but we must be brave enough to allow and enable the calculated risk. Great deeds can generate great rewards, but they always require some risk. Allowing individuals to take on that risk, is one of the things that has made America a great nation. As long as we continue to allow individuals the freedom to make their own choices, and as long as we keep protecting the uninvolved public, America will keep going forward, and keep going up.
Thank you very much.