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Highlights

Since GAO reported on the commercial space launch industry in 2006 and 2009, the industry has evolved and moved further toward space tourism. Commercial space tourism promises to make human space travel available to the public for the first time. In addition, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to use private companies to transport cargo, and eventually personnel, to the International Space Station after NASA retires the space shuttle later in 2011. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees the safety of commercial space launches, licensing and monitoring the safety of such launches and of commercial spaceports (sites for launching spacecraft), and promotes the industry. This testimony addresses (1) recent industry trends, (2) FAA's related budget request for fiscal year 2012, and (3) challenges that FAA and industry faces. This statement is based on GAO's October 2006 report and December 2009 testimony on commercial space launches, updated with information GAO gathered from FAA and industry experts in April and May 2011 on industry trends and recent FAA and NASA actions. In past work, GAO recommended that FAA take several actions to improve its oversight of commercial space launches, including assessing its future resource needs. FAA has taken some steps to address the recommendations.

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