Shocked Branson vows to push on with space flights

Shocked Branson vows to push on with space flights

Saturday, November 1, 2014 7:50 am

Richard Branson and his Galactic spacecraft: not ready to give up

Richard Branson and his Galactic spacecraft: not ready to give up

Virgin’s pioneering tourist-carrying spacecraft crashed on a test flight in California on Friday, killing a pilot and scattering debris across the desert — and raising questions about the program’s future.

But Virgin chief Richard Branson, while voicing shock at the accident involving Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, vowed to push forward towards the dream of space flight for the paying public.

“We’ve always known that the road to space is extremely difficult — and that every new transportation system has to deal with bad days early in their history,” he said.

“Space is hard — but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together,” he added in a statement issued as he refueled en route for Mojave.

Television images showed the wreckage of SpaceShipTwo, a test vehicle that flies to the edge of space, amid brush east of Mojave, a few hours’ drive northeast of Los Angeles.

The incident is the second disaster involving a US spacecraft this week, after an unmanned Orbital Sciences rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded after launch on Tuesday.

It is also a huge blow to British tycoon Branson’s long-held dream of offering the first passenger space flights, which have been snapped up by Leonardo DiCaprio and other celebrities.

The Virgin chief is due Saturday in Mojave, where the California Highway Patrol confirmed that one pilot had died and another was seriously injured and taken to hospital.

The SpaceShipTwo’s first commercial flight — in which Branson and his family have vowed to travel — has been repeatedly delayed, but was tentatively forecast for the first half of 2015, before Friday’s crash.

DiCaprio and fellow actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are among those already reported to have booked their place.

In May, DiCaprio auctioned off an invitation to join him on a trip into space, raising 700,000 euros ($876,000).

Private companies are rushing to fill the gap left by NASA, which ended its 30-year shuttle program in July 2011 with the completion of the final Atlantis mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Analysts said the accident is a huge blow to the nascent industry.

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