The pilot killed in Friday’s crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has been identified as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury. National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived at the scene of the crash in the California desert on Saturday to try and determine what went wrong. Virgin Galactic’s founder, billionaire Richard Branson, was also at the scene. “In testing the boundaries of human capabilities and technologies, we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Branson said. “Yesterday, we fell short. We will now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward together.” He added, “We do understand the risks involved and we’re not going to push on blindly. To do so would be an insult to all those affected by this tragedy.” The test flight which crashed was the first in which SpaceShipTwo used a new motor with a plastic-based fuel, though executives say the new motor and fuel had been thoroughly tested on the ground. A second pilot was taken to a local hospital with “major injuries.”
Friday’s flight was a test in preparation for suborbital trips beyond 62 miles in altitude. The rocket is carried aloft by an airplane and it then detaches and fires a rocket to reach suborbital space. In 2004, SpaceShipOne made history as the first private manned vehicle to reach the boundary of space (62.5 miles, or 100 kilometers, above the Earth’s surface). The craft was built by Scaled Composites, a joint venture between Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace designer Burt Rutan. (The feat won them the $10 million Ansari X Prize.) SpaceShipOne was retired in 2005, and Scaled Composites then went into business with Richard Branson’s Virgin to build SpaceShipTwo. In April, Branson said he was 90 percent certain he would go into space in 2014.