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.