In 2004, Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson believed that commercial space travel was possible within three short years. With the establishment of his Virgin Galactic space-travel program, the business magnate and founder of the Virgin Group expected a busy future providing suborbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions, and orbital launches of small satellites. Thus far, however, his goal has been delayed by a string of setbacks.
In a recent blog post on his website, Branson writes, “We’ve always know that the road to space is extremely difficult – and that every new transportation system has to deal with bad days early in their history.”
The statement comes in response to the explosion of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, which crashed during a test flight in the Mojave Desert on Friday. According to authorities, the accident was caused by “a serious anomaly.” Two minutes after launching from its carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo, witnesses described seeing the spacecraft explode at nearly 45,000ft in the air. The blast scattered debris across a two-mile swath of the desert, north of Mojave.
One of the two test pilots aboard the plane was killed. The other managed to eject from the craft, but was severely injured in the process and has been taken to Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California for treatment. Although the crewmembers have not yet been identified, both worked for Scaled Composites – an American aerospace company based in Mojave.
Thus far, the company has played a large role in the development and testing of spacecrafts for Virgin Galactic. However, since the initial launch of the space program, several incidences have delayed the future of the project even before the recent tragedy. The first test ship, SpaceShipOne, suffered several “single-point failures,” causing the detonation of a tank of nitrous oxide, which killed three people and seriously injured three others. Then in 2011, SpaceShipTwo malfunctioned upon re-entry, although the problem was later corrected.
Yet, despite these major setbacks, more than 800 people have already paid or put down deposits for the space journey. Included in this list are several A-list celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Bitt, Stephen Hawking, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber – each paying as much as $250,000 for the ride. The proposed trip would give passengers a view of the planet from space, and the experience of weightlessness for five minutes.
Sir Richard Branson also vows to continue his mission. Although deeply “shocked and saddened” by the event, he insists that he would fly on the Virgin Galactic’s inaugural flight with his children.
“Space is hard – but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together,” he said.