Official: Debris sign of spaceship breaking up
Mojave, California: Investigators looking into what caused the crash of a Virgin Galactic prototype spacecraft that killed one of two test pilots said a 5-mile path of debris across the California desert indicates the aircraft broke up in flight.
“When the wreckage is dispersed like that, it indicates the likelihood of inflight breakup,” National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart said late Saturday.
Learning where aircraft parts fell will help investigators determine when and how the breakup occurred, he said.
The crash almost certainly dashed founder Richard Branson's goal of starting commercial suborbital flight next spring, but the mogul said that while he remained committed to civilian space travel “we are not going to push on blindly.”
In grim remarks at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the craft known as SpaceShipTwo was under development, Branson gave no details of Friday's accident and deferred to the NTSB, whose team began its first day of investigation Saturday.
“We are determined to find out what went wrong,” he said, asserting that safety has always been the top priority of the program that envisions taking wealthy tourists six at a time to the edge of space for a brief experience of weightlessness and a view of Earth below.
“Yesterday, we fell short,” he said. “We'll now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward.”
He also criticized early speculation about crash causes. “To be honest, I find it slightly irresponsible that people who know nothing about what they're saying can be saying things before the NTSB makes their comments.”
The pilot killed in the test flight was identified Saturday as Michael Tyner Alsbury, 39, of nearby Tehachapi. The surviving pilot is Peter Siebold, 43, who parachuted to safety and was hospitalized.