The space industry faced another disaster this week as Virgin Galactic’s tourism rocketship crashed on Friday after a malfunction during a test flight in the Mojave Desert, killing one of the two pilots. Officials have yet to determine the cause of death. According to the Associated Press a photographer who was at the scene reported that Virgin Galactic’s “SpaceShipTwo” blew up after its engine fired when it was dropped from WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that carried it. Wreckage was strewn all over desert railroad tracks near Cantil. Kern County Sheriff’s office reported that the pilot ejected and was taken to a local hospital but the co-pilot suffered fatal injuries. This accident comes on the heel of Orbital Sciences Corp losing a rocket during liftoff in Virginia. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that they are sending a team to investigate the crash. Branson sent out a tweet sending his condolences to all involved.
Virgin Galactic’s owner, Richard Branson claimed that the craft “suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle.” However the CEO of the company that owns the launch pad disagreed with Branson’s conclusions by saying “I will tell you from my eyes and my ears that I detected nothing that appeared abnormal.” Galactic is owned by Branson’s Virgin group as well as a foreign company based in Abu Dhabi. Many world famous celebrities have signed up for flights. The company has received more than $80 million from 700 people.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides released a statement to the press discussing the crash.
Space is hard, and today was a tough day. We are going to be supporting the investigation as we figure out what happened today, and we are going to get through it,” “The future rests in may ways on hard, hard days like this.”
NASA released a statement upon hearing of the tragedy.
While not a NASA mission, the pain of this tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration,” Bolden said. “Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.”
The test was conducted by Virgin Galactic’s partner Scaled Composites at 9:20 a.m. when the ship took off with the craft. According to meteorologists, the weather was clear and had light winds. Branson has been developing the suborbital craft at the Mojave spaceport, northeast of Los Angeles. The company had hoped to begin commercial flights next year.