There has been a recent boom in the attempts to commercialize space flight. With NASA no longer sending people into space on its ships, attention has turned to new companies like Space X and Virgin Galactic. These companies are on the verge of making commercial space travel an affordable and common practice. Virgin Galactic, for example, has begun selling tickets to space tourists for as early as 2014. Unfortunately, the laws protecting those future passengers are already under attack.
As part of its plans, Virgin Galactic agreed in 2005 with the State of New Mexico that in exchange for building a new $208 million spaceport that Virgin Galactic would make New Mexico the home for its base operations. Virgin Galactic is now threatening to back out of this agreement unless New Mexico passes legislation which would block lawsuits from passengers against space flight suppliers. Current New Mexico and Federal laws treat space flight as an “adventure sport” because lawmakers find spaceflight to be inherently dangerous. Lawmakers have limited space flight operators to liability only when they have not given space flight participants “informed consent” in writing. Operators have a duty to warn its customers of all the dangers of space flight. What Virgin Galactic wants, however, is for legislators to expand this limitation to suppliers as well as operators.
To put this in to perspective, if someone is injured while bungee jumping, the bungee cord supplier could be held liable if it produced a defective bungee. Under Virgin Galactic’s proposal, that supplier would no longer be responsible for its defective products. In other words, if someone is injured due to a fault in a component of the spacecraft, they would be unable to hold anyone responsible for their injuries.