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Co-op matters: Flying high

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of the Northeastern Law Magazine.

Law is not rocket science. Except at Daniel Penaloza’s co-op with the Federal Aviation Administration, which actually involves a lot of rocket science.

“It’s fascinating,” says Penaloza, from his perch in Washington, D.C., at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. There, he’s gained experience in commercial space legislative and regulatory analysis, space law, and intellectual property. “Most people think NASA regulates space, but they’re just concerned with exploration. The FAA is actually this country’s space regulating agency.”

Take space tourism, for example, championed by companies like Virgin Galactic. “The question is, how do you regulate this new technology, harmonizing it with different countries, while still ensuring safety and promoting industry growth?” he asks. Penaloza wrote a white paper on the topic, providing the agency with a comparative analysis between the European Aviation Safety Agency and the FAA’s approach to regulating such spaceflight. A few days later, he was called into an impromptu meeting. “We had a surprise visit from EASA officials who were in town—my boss asked me to present my findings,” he says.

“This co-op changed my views of federal agencies,” Penaloza concludes. “I always thought government agencies were so bureaucratic, but it’s not like that at all.” With space travel, he finds “huge opportunity” to be entrepreneurial in applying international and intellectual property law to the emerging body of space law.

With its skyward focus, this co-op has exceeded Penaloza’s every legal desire, though he confesses to one, small, unfulfilled wish. “I’m hoping to hitch a ride to space to experience zerogravity,” he says, “but I doubt this will happen.”

Written by Maura King Scully, associate editor of the Northeastern Law Magazine.