Pilots in Virgin spaceship crash identified | News | DW | 02.11.2014
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Pilots in Virgin spaceship crash identified

Friends have described Michael Alsbury, the pilot killed in Friday's crash of a Virgin Galactic spaceship, as a devoted husband and father. Peter Siebold, who survived the crash, is alert and talking with family members.

Authorities have identified the two pilots in Friday's ill-fated Virgin Galactic prototype spaceship test flight, which went down over the California desert.

Michael Alsbury, 39, was the co-pilot during the test flight of SpaceShipTwo. He was a respected test pilot with at least 15 years of flight experience and described by neighbors as a devoted husband and father of two.

Pilot Peter Siebold survived the crash and is now "alert and talking with his family and doctors," according to a statement from Scaled Composites, the firm that designed the spacecraft.

"It was a horrible day yesterday for everyone," said Alsbury's next door neighbor Patricia Kinn. "What's hard is the family is suffering the loss of their dad. And they were very tight."

Alsbury had logged more than 1,600 hours as a test pilot and test engineer. He co-piloted SpaceShipTwo when it broke the sound barrier during its first powered flight last year, and also participated in an unpowered glide test of the aircraft in 2010.

A team of US federal investigators has launched a probe into the cause of the crash.

Branson: The dream lives on

Virgin Galactic founder, British tycoon Richard Branson, vowed on Saturday to determine what caused the crash, and expressed his desire to continue with the research and development of commercial space flight.

"We owe it to our test pilots to find out exactly what went wrong, and once we've found out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on," Branson said.

"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."

Branson described the crash of the rocket known as SpaceShipTwo as a "devastating loss" and tweeted his condolences late on Friday night.

Before Friday's crash, SpaceShipTwo's first commercial flight was scheduled for the first six months of 2015. More than 800 people have already paid or put down deposits for a suborbital flight, lasting just a matter of minutes, which has an initial ticket price of $250,000 (199,000 euros).

The incident was the second disaster involving a US spacecraft in one week, after an unmanned rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded post-launch on Tuesday.

bw/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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