Tail piece from SpaceShipTwo debris field. Photo: Laura Davis

Tail piece from SpaceShipTwo debris field. Photo: Laura Davis

by Nur Hussein, staff writer

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, spoke at a press conference today about yesterday’s tragedy of the SpaceShipTwo crash in the Mojave desert. Branson, who traveled overnight to the Mojave to be with his team, said that it was “one of the most difficult trips” he has had to make. Branson also Tweeted, “Touched by overwhelming support for team. Wish I could hug every person who has sent messages of support.”

Branson expressed his sympathy for the families of the victims of the accident, but also pledged that they will move forward with their space vehicle efforts, as they owe it to the people who risked their lives flying and testing these ships. Describing space flight as “incredibly difficult,” Branson noted that “every new transportation system has to deal with bad days early in their history … We do understand the risks involved and we are not going to push on blindly – to do so would be an insult to all those affected by this tragedy. We are going to learn from what went wrong, discover how we can improve safety and performance, and then move forward together.”

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has arrived at the scene, and beginning investigations into the crash. Branson gave his assurance that they will “cooperate fully with all the authorities involved in the investigation.”

The pilot who lost his life in the crash has been identified as Michael Alsbury. The surviving pilot’s name has not yet been released.

Branson concluded, “I truly believe that humanity’s greatest achievements come out of our greatest pain. This team is a group of the bravest, brightest, most determined and most resilient people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. We are determined to honour the bravery of the pilots and teams here by learning from this tragedy. Only then can we move forwards, united behind a collective desire to push the boundaries of human endeavor.”

Additional update, 3:00 p.m. Pacific, November 1, 2014

We’ve got a bit of good news to share: the pilot injured in yesterday’s crash is now awake and talking! Scaled Composites issued this statement: “The Scaled Composites family lost a respected and devoted colleague yesterday, Michael Alsbury, who was the co-pilot for the test flight of SpaceShipTwo. Peter Siebold, the Director of Flight Operations at Scaled Composites, was piloting SpaceShipTwo. He is alert and talking with his family and doctors. We remain focused on supporting the families of the two pilots and all of our employees, as well as the agencies investigating the accident.”