The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed that the crash aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was caused due to the co-pilot’s unlocking the spacecraft’s aerodynamic controls prematurely. The 39 year old co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, who died in the Friday crash was in the right seat and he flipped a switch to unlock a lever, which might have resulted the tail of the spacecraft to rise and create drag as the rocket re enters the atmosphere of the earth, an action known as ‘feathering’.
The SpaceShipTwo was one of the glossiest showpieces owned by Virgin Galactic and was designed to carry wealthy adventure seekers into suborbital space, and was on a test flight when the mishap occurred. It crashed just seconds after separating from its carrier plane, tens of thousands of feet above the Mojave Desert in California. While Alsbury was killed, the other pilot, Peter Siebold was seriously injured. Siebold is yet to be interviewed.
Some parts of the wreckage were found as far as 35 miles northeast of the site of the crash. Although Virgin galactic has expressed grief over the tragic accident, it has made it clear that it will not deter them for going ahead with their plans.
“Everything we do is to pursue the vision of accessible and democratized space — and to do it safely.”
In an interview with The Times on Sunday, George Whitesides, chief executive of Mojave-based Virgin Galactic, said work would continue in order to finish a second aircraft by the end of the year.
This crash could well change the face of space tourism, say experts. Though people with enough cash don’t mind splurging it to fulfil something as adventurous as psace travel and weightlessness, there might be not be many takers where a minor error could result in death.
John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, told FoxNews.com that the crash will likely reshape the nascent market for space tourism.
“It’s bound to be a setback for the industry for some period to come,” he said, adding that consumers will be closely scrutinizing future tests of space tourism craft. “I think that there has to be a number of demonstration flights and test flights and possibly much, much, more government oversight.”
Logsdon explained that, up to this point, there has only been light regulation of the private space tourism industry.
“The Federal Aviation Administration has some very rigorous standards that airline builders have to meet before they are certified to carry passengers – there’s nothing like that for the space tourism industry,” he said.
Andrea Gini, chairman of the Information and Communication Committee of the International Association for Advancement in Space Safety (IAASS) also expects a renewed focus on safety.
“I believe that this accident will change the general approach of the industry to safety,” he explained, in an email. “The industry must establish some standards along with other stakeholders (including governmental organizations like FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization) and make sure that they are followed.”
“The IAASS has proposed that commercial players should follow the path of self-regulation, by forming an independent organization that could certify new design and new approaches to make sure that they follow the industry’s best practices,” he said. “This is the approach that has been established in Formula 1 car racing, and in the past 20 years has worked really well for them,” said Gini.