Investigators Begin Work at SpaceshipTwo Crash Site

Law-enforcement officers take a closer look at the wreckage near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Law-enforcement officers take a closer look at the wreckage near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Los Angeles Times/MCT) - National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived at the scene of the fatal crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in the California desert and said more than a dozen investigators had been assigned to determine what went wrong Friday.

Killed in the crash was one of the rocket’s two pilots, who was identified as Michael Alsbury, 39, a spokeswoman at the Kern’s County coroner’s office said.

The other pilot was injured; his name has not been released.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was also near the scene on Saturday and said his company was eager to find out how the rocket ship failed.

“In testing the boundaries of human capabilities and technologies, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Yesterday, we fell short,” Branson said. “We will now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward together.”

This will be the first time that the NTSB has led an investigation into a space launch with people on board, the agency’s acting chairman, Christopher Hart, said Saturday. The NTSB assisted in the investigations of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, he said.

The crash site and debris field was protected by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department overnight, Hart said, and he expected NTSB investigators to have a lot of evidence to sift through. He said he did not know if the rocket plane had a flight-data recorder.

“This was a test flight and test flights are typically very well documented in terms of data,” he said.

Friday’s test flight was the first in which SpaceShipTwo used a new motor with a plastic-based fuel. Virgin Galactic announced in May that it was switching to the new fuel after using a rubber-based propellant.