[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 231 (Monday, December 2, 2013)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 72011-72013]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-28405]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Aviation Administration

14 CFR Part 460


Interpretation Concerning Involvement of NASA Astronauts During a 
Licensed Launch or Reentry

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration, DOT.

ACTION: Interpretation.

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SUMMARY: This interpretation responds to a request from the National 
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) regarding whether the space 
transportation regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 
would restrict NASA astronauts from performing operational functions 
during a commercial space launch or reentry under license from the FAA.

DATES: Effective December 2, 2013.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For technical questions, contact Pam 
Underwood, Deputy Manager, Operations Integration Division; 
pam.underwood@faa.gov. For legal questions, contact Alex Zektser, 
Office of the Chief Counsel, International Law, Legislation, and 
Regulations Division, Federal Aviation Administration; email 
alex.zektser@faa.gov.

[[Page 72012]]


SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    On July 3, 2013, NASA asked the FAA whether the FAA would restrict 
NASA astronauts, who are U.S. Government employees, from engaging in 
operational functions during an FAA-licensed launch or reentry. NASA 
noted that all NASA astronauts undergo extensive training and must meet 
rigorous medical and training requirements. NASA will also ensure 
astronauts complete training specific to each launch and reentry 
operator's vehicle and operations.
    Specifically, NASA asked whether, under the FAA's statute and 
regulations, a NASA astronaut flying as a space flight participant 
could engage in ``all nominal and off-nominal operational functions,'' 
including ``the conduct of aborts, emergency response, and monitoring 
and operating environmental controls and life support systems.'' NASA 
also asked the FAA whether NASA's astronauts could ``perform 
operational activities up to and including flight.'' In response to 
NASA's question, the FAA examined the launch and reentry scenarios 
currently envisioned, and concludes that NASA astronauts may perform 
these functions in FAA-licensed launches and reentries.

Scenarios

    The FAA understands that the following scenarios are likely, but 
not definite. It is the FAA's understanding that a NASA astronaut's 
interaction with the controls of a launch or reentry vehicle may vary 
depending on a launch or reentry operator's designs and operational 
procedures, which are currently under development. During a nominal 
launch, a launch operator under an FAA license would most likely 
conduct the ascent using a flight computer as the primary means of 
controlling the flight path of the vehicle. Any persons on board would 
not likely affect the flight path of the launch vehicle. If an 
emergency situation arose, a NASA astronaut could override the launch 
operator's flight computer to initiate an abort from the launch vehicle 
and take manual control of the spacecraft atop the launch vehicle. NASA 
astronaut emergency operations could include manually initiating an 
abort, using thrusters to orient a capsule to support chute deployment, 
and subsequent deployment of any parachutes. Emergency operations could 
also include the NASA astronaut manually piloting a vehicle to a water 
or runway landing.
    For a reentry, a licensed operator's flight computer could serve as 
the primary means of controlling the flight path of the vehicle during 
a nominal reentry. A NASA astronaut might manually initiate the reentry 
burn, and the flight computer could conduct the reentry of the vehicle 
during nominal operations. The NASA astronaut could also have the 
capability to take manual control over the reentry vehicle in an off-
nominal or emergency situation. During an off-nominal or emergency 
situation, the NASA astronaut would, much of the time, be using 
procedures or training prepared by the reentry operator.

Discussion

A. Space Flight Participants Who are NASA Astronauts

    Based on the above scenarios, we conclude that, under 51 U.S.C. ch. 
509 (Chapter 509), the FAA's space regulations at 14 CFR ch. III, and 
consistent with the FAA's discussion of its human space flight 
requirements,\1\ a NASA astronaut may engage in operational functions, 
up to and including piloting the vehicle, the conduct of aborts, 
emergency response, and monitoring and operating environmental controls 
and life support systems, and the launch or reentry would remain under 
FAA jurisdiction.
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    \1\ Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight 
Participants, Final Rule, 71 FR 75616 (Dec. 15, 2006) (``Human Space 
Flight Rule'').
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    Chapter 509 addresses crew and space flight participants, and, 
according to Chapter 509's definition, NASA astronauts are space flight 
participants. Chapter 509 defines ``crew'' as ``any employee of a 
licensee or transferee, or of a contractor or subcontractor of a 
licensee or transferee, who performs activities in the course of that 
employment directly relating to the launch, reentry, or other operation 
of or in a launch vehicle or reentry vehicle that carries human 
beings.'' 51 U.S.C. 50902(2). Conversely, a ``space flight 
participant'' is ``an individual, who is not crew, carried within a 
launch vehicle or reentry vehicle.'' Id. Sec.  50902(17). Because a 
NASA astronaut is not an employee of a licensee or transferee, or of a 
contractor or subcontractor of a licensee or transferee, a NASA 
astronaut is not crew. Consequently, a NASA astronaut who is being 
carried within a launch or reentry vehicle is a space flight 
participant.

B. Limitations

    Chapter 509 does not specify any limitations on a space flight 
participant's conduct or operations during a launch or reentry. 
Similarly, FAA regulations implementing Chapter 509 for space flight 
participants, codified at 14 CFR part 460, also do not specify any 
limitations on a space flight participant's conduct or operations 
during a launch or reentry. See 14 CFR 460.41, et. seq.\2\ The only 
place where the FAA limits space-flight-participant conduct or 
operations is in the preamble to the Human Space Flight rule that 
created part 460. There the FAA states that:
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    \2\ The pertinent FAA regulations simply require that space 
flight participants: (1) be informed of risk; (2) execute a waiver 
of claims against the U.S. Government; (3) receive training on how 
to respond to emergency situations; and (4) not carry any weapons 
onboard. See 14 CFR Sec. Sec.  460.45-460.53.

    For public safety reasons, the FAA will not allow space flight 
participants to pilot launch or reentry vehicles at this time. A 
space flight participant who wants to pilot a launch or reentry 
vehicle would have to become an employee or independent contractor 
of the operator to acquire vehicle and mission-specific training. 
The operator will be in a better position to evaluate the skills of 
an employee or independent contractor than of a space flight 
participant, particularly as those skills relate to the requirements 
of the operator's particular vehicle. The FAA acknowledges that this 
restriction may create a dilemma for someone who wishes to acquire 
training in order to become employed, but, while the technology is 
so new, it is important for public safety that pilots be highly 
skilled at the outset.\3\
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    \3\ Human Space Flight Requirements Final Rule, 71 FR at 75618.

    As can be seen, the FAA's concern with space flight participants 
interacting with a launch or reentry vehicle was based on the 
possibility that space flight participants would not have the proper 
vehicle and mission-specific training. However, as NASA notes, NASA 
astronauts must meet rigorous medical and training requirements, which 
include training specific to each mission, launch vehicle, and reentry 
vehicle. Because NASA astronauts are not the untrained space-flight 
participants originally contemplated by the FAA, the considerations 
underlying the policy have, at best, a limited applicability to NASA 
astronauts. Thus, for the scenarios currently envisioned, NASA 
astronauts may engage in operational activities during a licensed 
launch or reentry to ensure safety and mission success

C. Jurisdiction

    We note that Chapter 509 does not apply to launches or reentries 
the U.S. Government carries out for itself. 51 U.S.C. 50919(g). 
Accordingly, NASA is not carrying out the launches or reentries that 
are subject to Chapter 509. In the event, not contemplated in this 
interpretation, that a NASA astronaut

[[Page 72013]]

exercised sufficient operational control to carry out the launch or 
reentry, Sec.  50919(g) would serve as a bar to FAA licensing the 
activity.
    In the scenarios described above, as currently under development by 
launch and reentry operators, the NASA astronaut would likely not 
affect the flight path of the vehicle during a nominal launch. During a 
launch, the astronaut would likely only manipulate the flight path of 
the vehicle if an emergency arose. Accordingly, section 50919(g) would 
not limit a NASA astronaut's ability to engage in operational functions 
during launch. Most of the conduct or operations would simply 
constitute the execution of emergency training required of space flight 
participants by Sec.  460.51.
    The analysis for a reentry is similar to that of a launch, with 
some additional consideration for the possible manual operation of the 
reentry vehicle by a NASA astronaut. Specifically, a NASA astronaut 
could initiate reentry manually, but because the scenarios have the 
reentry operator's flight computer directing the reentry, the NASA 
astronaut's interaction would not be sufficient to constitute NASA 
carrying out the reentry. Additionally, the NASA astronaut's exercise 
of manual control over the vehicle in an off-nominal situation would 
also not rise to NASA carrying out the reentry because, as discussed 
above, in an off-nominal situation, the astronaut would largely be 
implementing procedures created by a commercial launch or reentry 
operator for purposes of safety or mission success.
    In conclusion, Chapter 509 and the FAA's regulations impose no 
operational constraints on NASA astronauts for the scenarios envisioned 
here.

    Issued in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2013.
Mark W. Bury,
Assistant Chief Counsel for International Law, Legislation and 
Regulations.
[FR Doc. 2013-28405 Filed 11-29-13; 8:45 am]
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