Virgin Galactic Test Pilot Name Released in Wake of Fatal Explosion

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic test pilot, Michael Alsbury, was the person who perished in a fatal explosion on Friday over the Mojave Desert in California. The spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, broke apart, and one of the two men piloting it, Peter Siebold, was seen parachuting away. The other co-pilot, Alsbury, did not make it out alive.

Michael Alsbury, 39, was a flight engineer and test pilot. Alsbury was the co-pilot of SpaceShipTwo when it broke the sound barrier in 2013. He worked for the company that built and operates SpaceShip Two, Scaled Composites, for over ten years.

The Kern County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office stated that though the other pilot flying SpaceshipTwo on Friday, Peter Siebold, parachuted to safety, he was still injured seriously and underwent surgery Saturday afternoon, according to a report in USA Today. He was described as being alert and he was able to talk to his doctors and family members.

Branson, who is reportedly in shock over the tragic accident, journeyed to the Mojave Desert hours after the explosion took place on Friday. The owner of Virgin Galactic still remains hopeful about the future of commercial space travel, but some experts believe that the tragic death of Michael Alsbury could set back space tourism by years.

Richard Branson had plans of charging tourists $250,000 to be transported to the edges of space by the six-seater SpaceShipTwo. Initial flights of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft were scheduled to begin in 2015, with Branson and his family scheduled to be on the very first flight. Over 500 people had already reserved seats for a suborbital flight that was expected to last just the length of minutes.

The reason or reasons behind the Virgin Galactic disaster have not been determined as of yet, but the investigation is being led by the National Transportation Safety Board air safety agency. However, the initial theory is that the explosion could be due to the new kind of fuel that was used on the flight. It was a plastic-based fuel, the 35th type used in a series of test flights.

According to witnesses, they could not detect any signs of an explosion from the ground. Mojave Air and Space Port chief Stu Witt stated that he did not see an explosion, if there was one. He said he “detected nothing that appeared abnormal.”

In July 2011, when NASA canceled its shuttle program after 30 years, that left the potential business of space tourism wide open for private companies, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, to pursue. The final space shuttle mission was when the Atlantis shuttle traveled to the International Space station (ISS).

The SpaceShipTwo disaster, which claimed the life of pilot Michael Alsbury on Friday, will likely be a major setback to the space tourism industry, according to Marco Caceres. He is employed by the Teal Group as an analyst and director of space studies.

Initial word from NASA have been expressions of both shock and sorrow over the tragic explosion and death of Michael Alsbury. According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, everyone who has ever “devoted their lives to exploration,” will feel “the pain of this tragedy.”

The name of the pilot who perished in the Virgin galactic explosion of SpaceShipTwo has now been released, and the contributions of Michael Alsbury to the dream of one day making space tourism commonplace will go down in history. He will be remembered as one of the pioneers of the industry.

Written By Douglas Cobb

USA Today
Photo by Eugene Kaspersky – Flickr License

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