Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson pays his respects to the bravery of his company’s test pilots, and vows to find out the cause of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft test flight crash on Friday, October 31 that killed one test pilot and injured another, during a news conference at the Mojave Air and Space Port (about 95 miles northeast of Los Angeles) in Mojave, California, on Saturday, November 1, 2014.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press, Brittany Levine, by Mashable, Colin Daileda, and by The Guardian (U.K.), Andrew Gumbel in Mojave, California.
Update Sunday, November 2, 2014, 7:44 am: Officials have identified the two pilots in Friday’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo spacecraft crash. Michael Alsbury, 39, who died, was a married father of two. He lived in Tehachapi, California, near the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the test flights were conducted, USA Today reported.
Alsbury was a project engineer and test pilot at Scaled Composites, based at the Mojave Air and Space Port, and a Northrop Grumman Corp subsidiary that built and designed the spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, The Guardian (U.K.) reports. He was flying for the ninth time aboard SpaceShipTwo, including serving as the co-pilot on the vehicle’s first rocket-powered test flight on April 29, 2013, according to his biography on Scaled Composite’s website.
Photo Credit: David McNew, Getty Images, Michael Alsbury in April 3, 2003, Mojave, California.
Update Sunday, November 2, 2014, 7:44 am: Peter Siebold, 43, who was injured, parachuted out, but suffered major injuries. He was to undergo surgery, but there were no other details on his condition, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Saturday, November 1, according to Mashable. Photo Credit: Scaled Composites, Peter Siebold (shown in flight suite years earlier).
Sir Richard Branson began the news conference on Saturday, November 1 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with an opening statement in which he spoke about the loss of the pilot and the state of Virgin Galactic’s employees on Saturday. He then began taking questions about Virgin Galactic’s immediate future, including remarks about the company’s mission to substantially lower the economic cost of commercial suborbital space travel — an innovation joint venture between Virgin Galactic, Scaled Composites, and Abar investment fund in Abu Dhabi, speeding past several deadlines at a strategic investment cost swelling over $1 billion, according to The Guardian (U.K.).
“Humanity’s greatest achievements come out of our greatest pain,” Branson said.
“We’re going to learn from what went wrong,” the Virgin Group founder said Saturday, as he fully committed his commercial space tourism innovation subsidiary, Virgin Galactic, as a learning enterprise in addressing its mistakes and continuing in the company’s quest to send paying passengers into space.
“We owe it to our test pilots to find out what went wrong,” Branson said. “And once we find out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we will make absolutely certain that the dream lives on.”
“In testing the boundaries of human capabilities and technologies, we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Branson said. “Yesterday, we fell short. We will now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward together.”
“We do understand the risks involved and we’re not going to push on blindly. To do so would be an insult to all those affected by this tragedy,” Branson promised a large group of international media gathered at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
There are huge risks in commercial suborbital space travel, Branson conveyed to the international media. However, he repeatedly acknowledged that “yesterday, we fell short,” as he steadfastly vowed to continue testing Virgin Galactic’s capabilities, so similar accidents would not occur, most of all, while passengers are on board. Such safety risks to human life would not be tolerable.
Branson predicted back in April he was 90 percent certain he would go into space by December 2014.
Although Friday’s crash will now delay that prediction, my companion post, “Virgin Galactic: Keep Pushing US Into New Space,” featured on LinkedIn Pulse Big Ideas & Innovation Channel, and Space Channel, enthusiastically supports Branson’s space travel quest continuing as a science, technology and industry pioneer. This would be substantially beneficial to the government-university-industry partnership in achieving the breakthrough advancements of “New Space” transportation research and development.
Leadership and management is about creating a company culture of innovation alongside encouraging risk-taking and proper uncertainty management among employees, during unexpected and unfortunate times of crisis as the SpaceShipTwo crash. Sir Richard Branson conveyed such sound leadership and suborbital space tourism industry signaling on behalf of the Virgin Group with today’s news conference in Mojave, California.
Branson said Virgin would figure out how to improve the safety and performance of its spacecraft, and that he wasn’t concerned that the company’s path to space travel would now be delayed.
One test pilot on-board SpaceShipTwo is dead, who was found inside the wreckage on the Mohave Desert floor. The pilot who died in the crash was identified by The Los Angeles Times as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury.
Another as yet unidentified test pilot was injured upon parachute ejection and was found at the crash site by emergency teams, who immediately rushed him to Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California.
“One or two” confirmed passengers could withdraw their $250,000-per-seat Virgin Galactic ticket deposits, Branson said. He went on further stating passengers are free to obtain a refund of their confirmed deposits. Branson remains optimistic, however, saying he doesn’t think there will be much of a backlash from the company’s 700 customers-in-waiting.
SpaceShipTwo took off at about midday on Friday, but reported an “in-flight anomaly” around an hour later. Wreckage and debris from the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft were later found on the Mojave desert floor about 95 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The companion WhiteKnightTwo aircraft carrier of the crashed SpaceShipTwo spacecraft landed safely moments later.
The spacecraft test flight that crashed was the first in which SpaceShipTwo used a new motor with a plastic-based fuel, though executives say the new rocket motor, fuel mix compound ratio, maximum fuel temperature, and specific impulse (specific fuel consumption) had been thoroughly tested on the ground. SpaceShipTwo’s new fuel mix formula had been ground-tested four times before the flight.
Officials from several United States federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), arrived Saturday at the Mojave Air and Space Port to begin their preliminary examination further into the unknown causes of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft crash.
In an initial news conference, the acting NTSB chairman, Christopher Hart, said he did not even know if SpaceShipTwo had a black box flight recorder, according to The Guardian (U.K.).
The Guardian (U.K.) reports further: Branson said it was up to the NTSB to establish what happened and that he would not comment until the agency had completed its investigation.
Virgin Galactic’s company strategy was to push the frontiers of pioneering knowledge and to extend the boundaries of commercial viability of suborbital space travel, taking touring passengers nearly 70 miles above the Earth’s surface on short, suborbital flights.
Friday’s flight was a test in preparation for suborbital trips beyond 62 miles in altitude.
Photo Credit: BBC
Celebrity entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson unveiled in 2009 his Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo aircraft carrier and the SpaceShipTwo, the world’s first commercial spacecraft, paving the way for thousands of tourists to travel in just 90 seconds about seventy miles above the Earth at 2,500 miles per hour into suborbital zero gravity space flight, peaking at a maximum height of 360,000 feet (70 miles or 110 kilometers). And then, re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a free-fall with folded wings of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, after which the spacecraft performs an unpowered spiral glide back down to an airport runway landing near you.
In 2004, SpaceShipOne made history as the first private manned vehicle to reach the boundary of space (62.5 miles, or 100 kilometers, above the Earth’s surface), chronicles The Daily Beast. “The craft was built by Scaled Composites, a joint venture between Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace designer Burt Rutan. (The feat won them the $10 million Ansari X Prize.) SpaceShipOne was retired in 2005, and Scaled Composites then went into business with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (under the space tourism innovation subsidiary Virgin Galactic) to build SpaceShipTwo.”
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