Investigators, Branson visit SpaceShipTwo crash site

The spacecraft blew up after being released from a carrier aircraft at high altitude, killing one pilot and badly injuring the other

Mojave, California: Federal accident investigators reach desert crash site where a winged spaceship, SpaceShipTwo, designed to give wealthy tourists a high-altitude view of Earth blew up during a test flight on October 31, killing one pilot and badly injuring another.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket separates from the carrier aircraft, before it explodes in the air, (right), during a test flight on Friday. Pic/AP

British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, whose SpaceShipTwo blew up after being released from a carrier aircraft on Friday also reached the area about 120 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. It was the second fiery setback for commercial space travel in less than a week.

Branson said it was “among the most difficult trips I have ever had to make” and that he wants to be “with the dedicated and hardworking people who are now in shock at this devastating loss.”

“Space is hard — but worth it,” Branson wrote. “We will persevere and move forward together.”

The incident
The spacecraft broke up after being released from a carrier aircraft at high altitude, according to Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the plane breaking apart.

One pilot was found dead inside the spacecraft and another parachuted out and was flown by helicopter to a hospital, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.

The accident occurred just as it seemed commercial space flights were a thing of the near future considering development that lasted far longer than hundreds of prospective passengers had expected.

Branson had once envisioned such flights by 2007. Last month, he, along with his son talked about the first flight being possible by next spring. “It’s a real setback to the idea that lots of people are going to be taking joyrides into the fringes of outer space any time soon,” said John Logsdon, retired space policy director at George Washington University.

The accident’s cause was not immediately known, nor was the altitude at which the blast occurred. The problem happened about 50 minutes after take-off and within minutes of the spaceship’s release from its mothership, said Stuart Witt, CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port.

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