On the same day Jeff Bezos pierced the sky, the Oregon Democrat introduced the idea of taxing non-scientific space flights on a per-passenger basis.

PMG/COURTESY PHOTOS - U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, left, and billionaire Jeff BezosAs Jeff Bezos gallivanted past the atmosphere Tuesday, July 20, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer launched a proposal back on Earth that would tax the very same space joy rides.

The Democrat representing much of Portland and East Multnomah County touted his new Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions — yes, the acronym is SPACE — Tax Act in a message to reporters.

"Space exploration isn't a tax-free holiday for the wealthy," said Blumenauer. "Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some."

While a spokeswoman for Blumenauer said the full legislative text of the proposal isn't ready yet, the idea generally consists of creating per-passenger taxes on commercial trips to space that carry humans, not just cargo, and don't further the goals of scientific research. A separate, two-tiered excise tax would apply on a per-launch basis, with a "significantly higher" rate for orbital flights breaching 80 miles above the planet's surface.

That would mean, in essence, a new cost for space tourism efforts exemplified by the atmospheric day trips of Bezos, the richest person alive, as well as his rival at the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, both of whom experienced minutes of weightlessness in highly touted events this month.

Blumenauer is particularly concerned with the environmental repercussions of frequent lift-offs, noting that Virgin Galactic has vowed to someday launch passenger shuttles every 32 hours.

"I'm not opposed to this type of space innovation," said the congressman. "However, things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment, and that don't have a scientific purpose, should in turn support the public good."

Suborbital spaceflight produces carbon emissions at an amount estimated to be 60 times greater than transatlantic flights, when taking into account the difference in quantity of passengers and travel distance, according to a news release from Blumenauer's office. Some researchers believe launches, powered by solid rocket fuel or black soot-producing kerosene, are depleting the stratospheric ozone, per the release.

NASA spaceflights would not be taxed, and joint commercial-scientific ventures would be taxed proportionally.

The policy proposal is intended to jumpstart conversation on the topic before space tourism ramps up, said spokeswoman Danielle Cohen.

"As for next steps, the congressman will be meeting with experts in the space (no pun intended) to flesh out further details before officially introducing the legislation in the future," she added.

Zane Sparling
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