Friday, January 2, 2015

Sir Richard Branson: Why I continued with Virgin Galactic after fatal crash • Billionaire Sir Richard Branson reveals he considered abandoning Virgin Galactic space tourism project after crash

Sir Richard Branson has set out the thinking behind his decision to continue with the Virgin Galactic space program in the wake of the crash that killed one of the project’s pilots.

In a message to the company’s staff which the entrepreneur has now made public, Sir Richard revealed that he considered abandoning the scheme after the accident in October that killed test pilot Mike Alsbury and seriously injured fellow pilot Peter Siebold.

The British billionaire recalled his doubts about continuing with the plan to offer $250,000 flights into space as he traveled to the crash site in California’s Mojave Desert to speak to staff.

“I found myself questioning seriously for the first time, whether in fact it was right to be backing the development of something that could result in such tragic circumstances,” he wrote.

“In short – was Virgin Galactic and everything it has stood for and dreamt of achieving, really worth it?”

However, he said the support from employees convinced him work should continue despite the “disbelief and shock” following the “fateful moment” when the prototype SpaceShipTwo space tourism vehicle tore itself apart and then crashed in the Mojave desert.

“I got a very firm answer to that question immediately when I landed in Mojave,” Sir Richard wrote. “From the designers, the builders, the engineers, the pilots and the whole community who passionately believed – and still believe – that truly opening space and making it accessible and safe is of vital importance to all our futures.

“Surrounded by our wonderful and talented team in Mojave, I said that humanity’s greatest achievements often come out of our greatest pain,” he wrote, describing the death of Mr Alsbury after SpaceShipTwo broke up at 50,000ft, shortly after being released by its launch vehicle.

Adding that having had time to think since the crash, he continued: “I believe that now, more than ever.

“Part of the reason I do, is that an event such as we have just experienced, brings out the best of so many people in so many ways.”

The Virgin Group founder said he had experienced some “hairy moments in previous adventures” with the sinking of powerboat trying to set the fastest Atlantic crossing and a ballooning “that didn’t quite go to plan” but that he had never experienced “anything quite as intense as the destruction of our spaceship and the heart-breaking loss of its pilot”.

And he added that the names of Mr Alsbury and Mr Siebold will be recalled in the future.

“When this story is told in years to come, I believe alongside the bravery of Mike and the incredible tale of Pete’s survival, will stand the story of the commitment, loyalty and passion of the world’s first private astronauts,” Sir Richard wrote.

“And so Virgin Galactic goes on, with an unwavering commitment to safety and a renewed sense of purpose.”

The investigation by America’s National Transportation Safety Board into the cause of the supersonic break-up of SpaceShipTwo could take up to a year, according to the authority's officials.

They are reported to be focusing on whether the vehicle’s movable tail section was unlocked early, before aerodynamic forces were right to keep the structure held in place as designed.

About two seconds after the tail was unlocked, it began to swivel outward, likely triggering the vehicle’s break-up.

Since the crash 24 of the around 800 passengers who have signed up to become space tourists are understood to have asked for refunds.

Story, Comments and Photos:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk


Scaled Composites Model 339 SpaceShipTwo, N339SS, Scaled Composites: Accident occurred October 31, 2014 in Mojave, California  

AIRCRAFT EXPERIMENTAL SCALED COMPOSITES 339 CRASHED ONTO THE KOEHN DRY LAKE BED SHORLY AFTER SEPARATION FROM MOTHERSHIP WHITEKNIGHT 2 N348MS, THERE WERE TWO PERSONS ON BOARD, 1 WAS FATALLY INJURED 1 SUSTAINED SERIOUS INJURIES, MOJAVE, CA FAA 

Flight Standards District Office: FAA Van Nuys FSDO-01 

http://registry.faa.gov/N339SS 

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