Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane broke up in midair and crashed, leaving one test pilot dead and another seriously injured during a test flight on Friday, Oct. 31.
At approximately 9:20 a.m. last Friday, the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane took off from the Mojave Desert at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane attached and ready to be tested for a successful flight. After the paired planes reached an elevation of around 50,000 feet, almost an hour after takeoff, the SpaceShipTwo was released.
Stuart Witt, CEO and general manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California said that several minutes after the SpaceShipTwo was released from the carrier plane and attempted to fire its hybrid engine, the malfunction occurred. Witt, however, said that he did not see an explosion, but debris can be found all over the crash site.
One pilot aboard the SpaceShipTwo was killed in the crash. He is identified as Michael Alsbury, 39, by the Kern County Coroner’s Office. The second pilot, indentified as Peter Siebold, 43, escaped the crash using a parachute but was still seriously injured in the accident. He was transferred to a nearby hospital following the crash. Both pilots from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane landed safely.
Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George T. Whitesides, said in a statement following the crash: “The future rests in many ways on hard, hard days like this. But, we believe we owe it to the folks who were flying these vehicles as well as the folks who are working so hard on them to understand this and move forward.”
Virgin Galactic was testing the hybrid rocket engine in flight in hopes that the SpaceShipTwo could be used for commercial flights to the edge of space. The company has already sold 700 tickets to people that want to experience space, with some paying amounts up to $250,000.
Virgin’s billionaire founder Richard Branson and his investors have put nearly half a billion dollars into the spaceship venture over the last ten years, according to NBC. Following the crash, Branson said “This was a horrible setback, particularly for the family” of the deceased pilot, but “the risk is worth it.” He also assured that there would be a “whole massive series of test flights” before any paying customers would be taken into space.
Collin Heatley is a fourth-year student majoring in history. He can be reached at CH761384@wcupa.edu.