When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed while executing a test run few people understood what might have happened to cause the crash, or how the pilot aboard the craft managed to survive. The full report will take a year or more for investigators to fully understand what happened, and have their findings ready and available for the public.
While Peter Siebold, the pilot, was lucky enough to survive – his co-pilot, Michael Alsbury was not as lucky. Reports indicate that while little is known for certain about what caused the accident – some details are clear at this point. In-flight video reveals that the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury prematurely unlocked the “feathering” system or the breaking system for the descent. Those investigating the accident and subsequent crash noted that even the premature unlocking of the feathering system though, should not have been enough to cause the accident itself, and that there was likely another fact at play in addition to that point.
The feathers are really tails on the craft that create some drag, and help slow the spacecraft as it gets closer and closer to earth, and is something that is obviously crucial to the safe landing of a craft like this.
Virgin Galactic’s aggressive approach to the would-be commercial space industry is something that has drawn heavy criticism. That criticism only grew louder after this accident, and the company’s overall demeanor to continue forward. How Siebold survived though is one of the the most impressive portions of the overall story that is the crash of SpaceShipTwo.
Peter Siebold recalls unbuckling from his seat – at some unknown and undisclosed point during the fall downward. While his parachute deployed automatically, the spectacular part of his survival is the fact that it is estimated that he launched himself from the craft as it fell apart somewhere around 50,000 feet. He lost consciousness from the lack of oxygen at that height, and he says his last memory was a sensation that felt like moisture boiling on his tongue. He exited the craft traveling at roughly 600 mph and even with all of that said, he survived and is recovering.
Even with all of the uncertainty surrounding the stability of the space program, the money continues to pour in to have a seat reserved on the first crafts that will take people commercially into space. Right now, it is estimated that roughly 700 customers have prepaid to be a part of the first non-trial flights that take place when testing is complete. However, that remains some-years out yet, and at least until the completion of this investigation – many will reserve their final thoughts for more information around the accident.