Richard Branson vows to take his family into space
US investigators say have not ruled out the possibility of pilot error on board SpaceShipTwo, which crashed in the Mojave Desert in California on Friday, killing the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, 39.
Sir Richard, the billionaire tycoon behind the project, said surviving pilot Peter Siebold, 43, had escaped serious injury and should be out of hospital within days.
He also said Virgin Galactic could “move forward” despite the disaster.
Speaking yesterday Sir Richard said: “We’ve spent many, many years building a spacecraft, a mothership, a space port, that I think can do the job and do the job safely.
“We will not start taking people until we’ve finished a whole massive series of test flights and until myself and my family have gone up.”
Sir Richard also criticised the “irresponsible innuendo” in some reports of the crash, including claims there had been a mid-air explosion and that some engineers had left the project over safety concerns.
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“It was incredibly hurtful to the 400 engineers who have worked so gallantly at Virgin Galactic,” he said.
He said that intact fuel tanks and engines on the ground made a mockery of claims that there had been a “massive explosion”.
On reports that some had ejected from the craft, he said: “We don’t have ejector seats.”
Sir Richard said there was “overwhelming global support” for the project. “I’m absolutely convinced Virgin Galactic has a great future,” he added.
The United States National Transportation Safety Board, which is probing the crash, has revealed that seconds before the crash, a safety device to slow the descent had been deployed prematurely.
A spokesman said a second step in the safety process – which involves raising and rotating the spacecraft’s tail – had occurred “without being commanded” and that “two seconds later we saw disintegration”.
The spokesman, when asked whether investigators were “edging” towards the possibility of pilot error, replied: “We’re not edging towards anything. We’re not ruling anything out.
“We’re looking at all of these issues to determine what was the root cause of this mishap.
“We are looking at a number of possibilities including that possibility [of pilot error].”
Virgin Galactic – owned by Sir Richard’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi – plans to fly passengers to altitudes of more than 62 miles above Earth.
The company, which sells seats on each prospective journey for £156,000, has denied reports that it ignored safety warnings ahead of the test flight crash.
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