By David Pendered
Tom Cruise might be filming a movie on the Space Station before the first rocket is launched from a proposed spaceport in Camden County, north of Jacksonville.
Cruise got the public go-ahead to partner with NASA on the project in tweet posted Tuesday by NASA’s top administrator, Jim Bridenstine. Elon Musk, the space entrepreneur, is to be part of the project.
Bridenstine sent this tweet Tuesday afternoon:
- “NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station!
- “We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality.”
Elon Musk immediately chimed in with this tweet:
- “Should be a lot of fun!”
Cruise didn’t join in the repartee. His tweets are mostly about the sequel to his blockbuster, Top Gun, which COVID-19 pushed from a release on June 26 to Dec. 23.
One fan posted this comment on the story in Deadline, the trade publication that broke the news Monday that Cruise and NASA and Musk were in conversations about a space project:
- “It’s official – Tom Cruise is the last true movie star. Who else would even think to do this? He actually has all the qualities that are poured into the fictional characters we all love… Ethan Hunt, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Han Solo… Tom Cruise is that guy in real life. Gotta love and respect it.”
Spaceport Camden made things a bit more indecipherable in its report that it must undergo a whole new round of environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The reason is a new plan submitted to the FAA that seeks permission to launch smaller rockets that won’t drop a first stage propulsion unit somewhere on the flight trajectory after liftoff. The rockets are to fly over portions of Cumberland Island, portions of which are inhabited by humans.
Bob Hope, the veteran public affairs advisor in Atlanta, is named as the contact for a statement that says the spaceport needs only to submit additional information related to:
- “14 CFR §420.15 (environmental) and §420.17 (policy).”
A definition of those terms is provided in the federal government’s Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Highlights of the two sections observe:
- “Environmental. An applicant shall provide the FAA with information for the FAA to analyze the environmental impacts associated with the operation of the proposed launch site. … An applicant shall submit environmental information concerning a proposed launch site not covered by existing environmental documentation, and other factors as determined by the FAA.”
The section described in the statement as “policy” is described in the electronic code as, “Bases for issuance of a license.” It has seven criteria:
- “The application provides the information required by §420.15 (the environmental step);
- “The FAA has completed an analysis of the environmental impacts associated with the proposed operation of the launch site, in accordance with NEPA, 40 CFR parts 1500-1508, and FAA Order 1050.1D;
- “The launch site location meets the requirements of §§420.19, 420.21, 420.23, 420.25, 420.27, and 420.29;
- “The applicant has completed the agreements required by §420.31;
- “The application demonstrates that the applicant shall satisfy the requirements of §§420.53, 420.55, 420.57, 420.59, 420.61 and 420.71;
- “The explosive site plan meets the criteria of §§420.63, 420.65, 420.67 and 420.69; and
- “Issuing a license would not jeopardize foreign policy or national security interests of the United States.”
These measures represent significant steps of new review that are in keeping with the scope of the spaceport’s new proposal, according to Brian Gist, senior lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents National Parks Conservation Association and One Hundred Miles.
“Small rockets fail at a much higher rate than medium to large rockets, so the FAA must now consider the environmental impacts of these risky, unproven vehicles,” Gist said in a statement. “Given the enormous risks Spaceport Camden poses to public health, private property and Cumberland Island, this is not the time for shortcuts and half-measures.”
The spaceport’s statement maintained a positive outlook and included these observations from top advocates of the proposal:
Camden County Commission Chairman Jimmy Starline:
- “With only environmental review and policy review outstanding, Spaceport Camden has cleared the critical safety and launch site location reviews.
- Camden County has had good conversations with the Pentagon and leadership at Kings Bay and we are confident that we can deconflict any remaining issues pertaining to the Department of Defense.”
Camden County Administrator and project lead, Steve Howard:
- “Clearing safety review and launch site location review indicates that we made the right decision in amending our application to focus on market position.
- “I am encouraged by our progress.”