Richard Branson: Crash won’t halt flights to space

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SIR Richard Branson has vowed to continue efforts to put commercial travellers into space following a test-flight crash which left one pilot dead and another seriously injured.

The Virgin Galactic boss said space was “hard but worth it” after the rocket came down in the Mojave desert in California on Friday.

Picture: AP

Picture: AP

Speaking in California yesterday, Branson said he hoped the “dream will live on” and revealed at least one would-be passenger had signed up to go into space since the crash.

His comments came as the co-pilot who died in the doomed test flight was named by Kern County Sheriff’s Department as Michael Alsbury, 39, a married dad of two from Tehachapi in California. The surviving pilot was also named by police as Peter Siebold.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket came down having “suffered a serious anomaly” after a test flight conducted by partner business Scaled Composites.

Branson said it was “incredibly sad” that someone had lost their life, adding his company was eager to find out what went wrong.

“We are determined to learn from this and move forward together as a group of friends and a company,” he said. “We do understand the risks involved – we’re not going to push on blindly. To do so would be an insult to all affected by this tragedy.”

At times looking emotional, he added: “All 400 engineers who work here and most people in the world would love to see the dream living on.

“Once we find out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, the dream will live on.”

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Branson said he had never met the pilot involved in Friday’s crash. He said the company had received messages of support from those already signed up to travel into space, but said refunds would be available for those who had changed their mind.

SpaceShipTwo has been under development at Mojave Air and Space Port.

It was designed to be carried into the air by the WhiteKnightTwo jet and then released before igniting its rocket to travel into space, and then glide back to Earth.

The flight had taken off at 9.30am local time and the two craft had separated at 10.10am.

Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said: “The future rests in many ways on hard days like this, but we believe we owe it to the folks flying these vehicles as well as the folks who have been working so hard on them to understand this and move forward.”

He said it was the first time the SpaceShipTwo rocket had been flown using a new fuel formulation. “It had been proven and tested on the ground many times,” he added.

Whitesides said the pilots were employed by Scaled Composites. He said the injured pilot was “as well as could be expected”. A problem was discovered two minutes after the flight took off, and teams were sent to the crash site 25 miles north of the airport.

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