At LDRS 23, the TRA Board of Directors elected me to serve as your new president. Although this will be my first opportunity to address the entire membership as president, hopefully I won't need to devote much space to introducing myself to you; in my role as a Board member and Tripoli Report editor for the past several years, I have had many opportunities to express my views.
This new role for me is not the only organizational change; several others of note have occurred. First and foremost, the position of president became open because Dick Embry chose to step down as TRA president. He deserves our thanks for his two years of dedicated service in this role. It's not always easy to see what goes on behind the scenes, but Dick invariably took the trouble to involve me as his VP and the entire BoD in a great deal of business, and ensured he took advantage of the talent of the BoD by delegating tasks to appropriate members. I have always felt this was the best way to have our Board function, and so the same approach will continue. Apart from being an effective use of resources, it also ensures BoD members are engaged in matters that will help the next president step up to the plate well-prepared and ready to go. Dick will of course remain on the Board, and will continue to handle the basket of duties that are his to manage. Thanks for carrying the torch, Dick! Pat Gordezelik is our new vice-president, and I could not ask for a better VP. Pat brings great advanced rocketry experience, business savvy, and a colorful Texas vocabulary that eastern types like me can never emulate. Bruce Lee will remain our treasurer, and Bob Schoner will likewise retain his duties as secretary. I am happy that Bruce and Bob were willing to hold these very important jobs again, as they are doing so in a very strong manner. All told, I feel we have an extremely talented Board, with a wide and complimentary range of skills and experience - I am proud to be serving with them.
Another change involves the editorship of this publication. It seemed appropriate for the organization that I hand this duty off to another person. Robin Meredith, who TRA members know as the former TRA Board secretary and an accomplished rocketeer of vast experience, volunteered last year to assume the duty of creating the Tripoli Report. I held him off for some time, because I wanted to first segue the TR into the E-TR it has become. But I think the TRA president should focus his energies elsewhere, so it is time for Robin to step in as editor... and I am certain he will do a fine job. Thanks for your willingness to become our new TR editor, Robin.
And we also have a change at the Tripoli Motor Testing committee. Chairman Mark Clark has decided to step down, and requested the TRA president to appoint TMT's secretary, Paul Holmes, to replace him. Mark's proposal was approved - welcome to Paul as our new TMT chairperson.
At the LDRS 23 members' dinner, two new lifetime members were announced - Mark Clark and Guy Soucy. Both of these men richly deserve these awards. Mark's ongoing contributions to advanced rocketry, including his excellent efforts as TMT chairman, have had great positive impact on TRA. And Guy Soucy, our election committee chairman for many, many years has continued to perform this vital duty for TRA in a precise, fair, and impartial manner. We often overlook such contributions, since they are done so seamlessly. My thanks and congratulations to Mark and Guy for what they have done for all of us.
A new award was also created this year, as a result of a suggestion by lifetime member (and lifetime committee member) Chris Pearson. This award is the "President's Award" and can be bestowed by the TRA president for significant one-time achievements for any given year. Chris also volunteered to obtain very nice framed graphic certificates for this award. The first two recipients were Frank Uroda for his "Save Rocketry Now" effort of 2003, and Ky Michaelson for his successful Civilian Space Exploration Team (CSXT) effort of this year, the first positively confirmed civilian rocket boosted into space. Congrats and thanks to Frank and Ky for their outstanding efforts.
Not surprisingly, Ky was the key speaker at the LDRS 23 members' dinner. He delivered to the assembly a memorable talk of how he first got the high-power rocketry bug some years ago, and how this led him inexorably to push the envelope over the years, culminating in the realization of a dream - the CSXT space shot. This milestone was attained through a focused vision and hard work, and finding ways to overcome government bureaucracies and hurdles. Ky is no doubt proud of what he and his team have achieved, and we should be proud that it was the vision and philosophy of Tripoli that facilitated his ability to fulfill his dream (note - other TRA members who were part the historic CSXT effort include Bruce Lee, Derek Deville, Korey Kline).
While we are discussing milestones, it should not be overlooked that TRA lifetime member Korey Kline, and TRA Board member Derek Deville were also contributors to the other key civilian space effort of 2004, the flight of Space Ship One. It seems we are on the very verge of true civilian access to space, and Tripoli is an inspirational partner and leader in these key milestones for humanity.
This is really what Tripoli has always been about - a spectrum of activities that embraces those just beginning (or re-entering) the realm of high-power rocketry, up through the most advanced scientific efforts that we can hope to achieve. To some, TRA launches will be weekend recreation that is educational, creative, and fun. To others, it may become a passion that will take them into space. This philosophy was really always the soul of Tripoli, reaching back to its very beginnings, and it is exciting to realize that we are now more fully realizing the promise of what Tripoli aspired to be. Congratulations to Ky, Korey, Derek, Bruce and all those Tripolitans who continue to push the dream ahead.
The Continuing ATF Saga
At the risk of concluding my message on a difficult note, I want to stress to all TRA members that we are in a crucial phase of our struggle to gain relief from over-regulation by the ATF. The executive summary is this: 1) We gained some favorable Federal Court outcomes last March, and an unfavorable one as well, 2) we lost, for the time being, on our assertion that APCP is not an explosive, 3) we won on the assertion that fully assembled motors are Propellant Actuated Devices (PADs) and are outside the regulation of the ATF, 4) the court has upheld our assertions that the ATF illegally instituted enforcement based on weight, design, and intended use, requiring the ATF to go through the proper commentary process (NPRM 968). Things were looking promising. But while the court has ruled in a certain way, it appears, as of early August, that the ATF has other ideas. Although their attorney never responded to our official notice to her and the ATF regarding how we will operate as of the court's rulings of March (as directed by Judge Walton), on August 9, the ATF decided to publish a set of rocketry "FAQs" on their website that elaborate an interpretation of the current state of enforcement that differs greatly from what the court rulings have said. And it appears they are beginning their first efforts to actually enforce based on these FAQs. This is unacceptable.
I have spent much time in the weeks leading up to the publication of this issue documenting what the ATF has recently begun to do, involving a very contentious permit renewal process with a wellestablished dealer, and it appears that we will be going to court in the very near future to seek relief from this inappropriate enforcement. This situation is even more troubling when one considers that the presidents and vice-presidents of TRA and NAR recently had a meeting with Lew Raden, Assistant Director of the ATF's Office of Firearms Explosives and Arson (August 10 - see the statement elsewhere in this issue). During that meeting, we appeared to have possibly "broken the ice" and made the first step on what could be a useful channel of communication. While neither TRA nor NAR officials were kidding ourselves about where this may go, we at least hoped the ATF may be a little restrained in awaiting final court outcomes and following the direction of the court. However, it seems such is not the case. And unfortunately, any constructive continued dialog with the agency would need to be based on some degree of trust that each party will play by a consistent set of rules. We cannot progress with any positive relationship while we are being treated with contempt by the ATF.
During that meeting, Mr. Raden revealed what ATF feels is a chief concern - that HP rockets could be weaponized and used as a delivery system for something nefarious. He is also very concerned about his agency appearing to be vigilant to threats in this post-9/11 world. The supposed explosive nature of APCP was significantly low-keyed in this discussion. What does this tell us? It reveals that APCP being classified as an explosive is a key to ATF getting into our business and regulating rockets as a delivery system -something not really in their purview. Obviously, this also reveals what our direction must be.
We still have two open counts of our litigation, and these pertain to the ATF's regulation of APCP motors "?.based upon their weight, design, or intended use without first affording the public an opportunity to comment upon such thresholds." The court is requiring the ATF to complete the appropriate legal process, which has resulted in NPRM 968. The ATF has not completed this NPRM yet, and therefore, in the opinion of TRA, NAR and our legal counsel, cannot legally apply weight thresholds, design parameters, or intended use parameters to their regulation of APCP rocket motors until this process is completed and appropriate rules are made. The ATF apparently feels that a Federal Court can rule that they are illegally regulating by these parameters, and require them to promulgate the related rules legally, but continue to regulate based upon rules found to be illegal! This, my friends, is ridiculous, and is becoming more than a rocketry issue - it is a civil liberties issue.
It is apparent that ATF is stalled completing NPRM 968, and it is equally apparent that during this election and post-election period, little progress can be gained in Congress. Accordingly, the leadership of TRA (and NAR) feels that we should do the following:
1) Seek immediate relief to current enforcement irregularities by the ATF.
2) Obtain an update of the ATF's NPRM status in a scheduled court hearing this December.
3) Stand down on any legislative efforts while no new Congressional progress is likely.
4) Appeal count one of our litigation - APCP as an explosive - at the earliest feasible opportunity.
We are of the firm opinion that the Federal Court's finding on Count 1 is flawed and we would have a significant chance of success on appeal. This opinion has been carefully considered, and is the result of serious discussion with our legal counsel this past summer. Getting the ATF out of regulating APCP motors altogether would be the best resolution to the difficulties with this agency that never seem to end.
We are not taking legal expenses lightly, but you can see that even ensuring the ATF obey current legalities is requiring action by our attorneys, and of course, has a price tag. We do not intend to let our members and dealers that support us be bullied without attempting redress. Our fight is therefore not over, and we need to ensure that we stay in this for the long term viability of HP rocketry and our personal freedoms. We are going to need a boost to legal fund income - donations are way down at this time. The TRA Board is working on ways to help reinvigorate this fund, which may include marketing some "TRA-brand" merchandise through our website. In the meantime, any donations that members can make, and/or fundraising ideas and efforts that you can lead, are welcomed and tremendously needed.
The TRA Board will do everything in our power to gain the freedom from over-regulation that we must have to keep those new "Tripoli milestones" part of our future.
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