Billionaire and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wants answers about the Virgin Galactic crash, which killed one pilot and seriously injured another during a test flight in California on Friday. The British entrepreneur traveled to the Mojave Desert, the crash site of the SpaceShipTwo prototype rocket, on Saturday to meet with federal officials opening an investigation into the accident that scattered a large trail of debris across the barren desert. An enthusiastic advocate for space tourism, Branson said on Saturday that while he would like to see the "dream live on," Friday's crash is another major roadblock for commercial space travel.
Speaking at a press conference in the California desert, Branson vowed to have the answers for why and how the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, which is still under development, broke apart mid-air. "We owe it to our pilots to find out exactly what went wrong," Branson told reporters.
According to the Associated Press, Branson emphasized that safety is a top priority for Virgin Galactic. The business mogul said:
Yesterday, we fell short. We'll now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward. ... We are not going to push on blindly. To do so would be an insult to all those affected by this tragedy. We're going to learn from what went wrong, discover how we can improve safety and performance and then move forward together.
Virgin Galactic released a statement on Friday confirming that one pilot, identified by the Los Angeles Times as Michael Alsbury, died during the crash while the other pilot, Peter Siebold, parachuted to the ground. Siebold was seriously injured, and his current condition is unknown. Virgin Galactic said it was cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board, whose investigators will begin piecing together the details of the tragedy.
Branson has been at the forefront of commercial space travel for a decade, forming Virgin Galactic in 2004 as a way to develop and eventually promote space tourism for wealthy people, with tickets costing about $250,000. Virgin Galactic's spacecrafts include WhiteKnightTwo, which is a carrier ship, SpaceShipTwo, and LauncherOne. Test flights for SpaceShipTwo, which can only carry six passengers, began in 2010. It had never crashed before Friday.
The company claims it already has nearly $90 million in deposits from more than 700 potential space passengers. But when will SpaceShipTwo finally take on paying passengers? At this point, Branson is unsure. According to The Guardian, the space travel advocate looked hesitant during Saturday's press conference, though he did reaffirm his company's commitment. "We would love to finish what we started some years ago," Branson told reporters.
He added that millions are interested in space exploration, and "would love one day to have the chance to go to space." But that opening launch into the stars may be a long, long way off.
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