The quest for privatized space flight took a huge hit last October with the tragic fatal crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which took the life of one pilot, Mike Alsbury, and injured the other. This doesn’t mean that the company is going to back off of their ultimate goal of opening up access to the galaxy to everyone (or at least those with the discretionary income to be able to afford it). Virgin founder Richard Branson recently released a statement reflecting on the tragedy and clarifying the future of the company’s mission.
Never one to sit on the sidelines, after taking a few months to examine and digest the situation, as well as for the authorities to investigate the accident—which was chalked up to pilot error of some sort—Branson says that he, and Virgin Galactic, will not let this unfortunate calamity disrupt their plans for the future, or their hopes for changing space travel and the world.
You can read his full statement, which he sent to all Virgin Galactic employees before sharing with the public, below:
For all of us in the Virgin Galactic family, I’m sure 2014 will sadly be defined by that fateful moment on an October Friday, when excitement and eager anticipation, turned in an instant, to disbelief and shock.
The following morning surrounded by our wonderful and talented team in Mojave, I said that humanity’s greatest achievements often come out of our greatest pain and, having had a few weeks to think things over, I believe that now, more than ever.
Part of the reason I do, is that an event such as we have just experienced, brings out the best of so many people in so many ways. We have had some pretty hairy moments in some of our previous adventures, from ballooning that didn’t quite go to plan to a mid-Atlantic sinking, but I, and am sure many others involved, have never experienced anything quite as intense as the destruction of our spaceship and the heart-breaking loss of its pilot.
As I travelled from my home to Mojave that Friday evening, I found myself questioning seriously for the first time, whether in fact it was right to be backing the development of something that could result in such tragic circumstances. In short – was Virgin Galactic and everything it has stood for and dreamt of achieving, really worth it?
I got a very firm answer to that question immediately when I landed in Mojave. From the designers, the builders, the engineers, the pilots and the whole community who passionately believed – and still believe – that truly opening space and making it accessible and safe is of vital importance to all our futures.
I heard the same, heartfelt message at the incredibly moving memorial service for Mike Alsbury a week later and I heard and saw it in the thousands of messages that poured into my office from all around the world – and in one case, even beyond the world, from the astronauts on the International Space Station. I also heard, and saw, and felt it, from our Future Astronauts in an outpouring of support and solidarity which was at once humbling and uplifting.
When this story is told in years to come, I believe alongside the bravery of Mike and the incredible tale of Pete’s survival, will stand the story of the commitment, loyalty and passion of the world’s first private astronauts. And so Virgin Galactic goes on, with an unwavering commitment to safety and a renewed sense of purpose.
Thanks to everyone who has supported Virgin Galactic in 2014 and here’s to the next chapter in 2015.
Though the SpaceShipTwo crash was one of the first (three technicians were also killed in an explosion back in 2007) such accidents in the privatized space travel industry, it most certainly won’t be the last. But setbacks such as these have never deterred advancement and progress before, and it won’t this time either. Branson both acknowledges this fact, and also vows never to forget what has been lost and sacrificed for such gains, and sounds sincere in his sentiments.