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Investigation Continues Into Fatal SpaceShipTwo Accident
November 5, 2014 - The National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation into the tragic accident of SpaceShipTwo last Friday, October 31, in Mojave, California. Michael Alsbury, 39, EAA 9010159, Scaled Composites project engineer and test pilot, was killed in the accident. Peter Siebold, 43, EAA 569142, Scaled’s director of flight operations, was hospitalized for injuries received after successfully exiting the aircraft and parachuting to the ground. He has been released from the hospital.
The NTSB’s initial findings suggest that the craft’s feathering lock-unlock lever used to stabilize and slow the spacecraft when it returns to earth appears to have been moved from the locked position to the unlocked position prematurely. Officials suggest that subsequent aerodynamic forces then deployed the feathering mechanism, which resulted in the in-flight separation of the wings and vehicle.
SpaceShipTwo tore apart about 11 seconds after detaching from beneath WhiteKnightTwo and firing its rocket engine. At first some observers speculated an explosion occurred, but the NTSB said the fuel and oxidizer tanks and rocket engine showed no sign of being burned or breached.
The NTSB investigation is ongoing and no cause has yet been determined, said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart.
According to the Washington Post, Scaled employees speaking under the condition of anonymity called Siebold’s survival miraculous. “Siebold found himself flying through the air while still attached to his ejection seat. When he spotted the chase plane, he managed to give the pilot inside a thumb’s up, and then unbuckled himself at about 17,000 feet, deploying his parachute,” the paper reported. He was not wearing a pressure suit, yet survived the minus 70 F temperature and 50,000-foot freefall.
Siebold received the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Spirit of Flight Award at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.
In a November 4 statement, Virgin Galactic said: “While this has been a tragic setback, we are moving forward and will do so deliberately and with determination. We are continuing to build the second SpaceShipTwo (serial number two), which is currently about 65 percent complete and we will continue to advance our mission over the coming weeks and months. With the guidance of the NTSB and the assurance of a safe path forward, we intend to move ahead with our testing program and have not lost sight of our mission to make space accessible for all. We owe it to all of those who have risked and given so much to stay the course and deliver on the promise of creating the first commercial spaceline.”
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides stated Thursday that test flights in serial number two could occur as early as summer 2015.
Alsbury’s friends and co-workers at Scaled created a fundraiser to help his wife and two children with future expenses.