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Richard Branson Reflects On Virgin Galactic And The Future Of Privatized Space Travel

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Virgin GalacticThe 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.

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Virgin Galactic Explosion Caused By Pilot Error—But What Caused The Pilot Error?

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SS2 investigationLast week, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo exploded during a test flight, killing one pilot and injuring the other. While the investigation continues, and is likely to go on for quite some time, we do know more about what happened to SpaceShipTwo—namely, that the explosion appears to have been caused by pilot error. But in the wake of that revelation, new questions arise—ones that may not be easy to answer.

Investigators know that the premature unlocking of SpaceShipTwo’s feathering system—a braking system used to help the plane decelerate and descend—caused the explosion that resulted in the death of pilot Michael Alsbury. The deployment of that system caused the craft’s tail booms to move upward and forward to increase drag. It was supposed to be deployed when the craft reached a speed of 1.4 Mach, but instead was deployed when the space plane hit 1 Mach and was still accelerating.

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NBC’s Space-Based Reality Series Is Orbiting Disaster Following Virgin Galactic Crash

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The kind of excitement that humanity’s trek into the cosmos has inspired is a beautiful thing. We’re at a point when government-sponsored NASA isn’t the only thinktank headed into outer space, and the privatized frontier is here. Unfortunately, the trial-and-error process has its downfalls, and this past week has seen two Virgin Galactic crashes occurring, with today’s being the first where someone has died. To be expected, NBC is starting to have second thoughts about its upcoming reality series Space Race, which Virgin’s Richard Branson and producer Mark Burnett were behind.

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Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two Makes Third (And Highest) Test Flight

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Virgin GalacticThe Virgin Galactic doubters are eating their words after their soon-to-be low-Earth orbit spaceship made its third successful test flight on Friday. Each test flight has reached higher altitudes, with Friday’s flight making it 71,000 feet above the Mojave Desert.

Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two airplane carried the six-passenger spaceship between its hulls to just over 45,000 feet and then released it, leaving the spaceship to use its impressive rocket motor to keep on soaring. The rocket burn lasted 20 seconds, achieving Mach 1.4. That part of the flight lasted 10 minutes, and the two pilots had landed the plane safely in the desert within an hour. Chief pilot David Mackay said that the craft “flew brilliantly.” Virgin Galactic happily tweeted the news, along with some pretty awesome photos.

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NBC’s Space Race Will Give Winners A Ride Aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

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SpaceShipTwoTimes sure have changed. Remember when reality shows were about a bunch of wacky people picked to live together in a house where they could hook up and fight to their hearts’ content? Not anymore. Reality television is now poised to tackle the final frontier, and it’s hard to know whether this is ridiculous, kind of awesome, or simply inevitable. Or maybe all three.

NBC recently announced that, at some yet to be disclosed time, it will air Space Race, a show conceived by Survivor producer/creator and reality show guru Mark Burnett and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson.

While details about the rules and structure of the show haven’t been released, the basic premise is that “ordinary” people (as opposed to the incredibly rich people who can afford to buy seats at $250,000 a pop on Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflights) will compete to win a ride to space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo is about 60 feet long, with a 90-inch-diameter cabin that has room for six passengers and two pilots (no word yet on whether the winner gets to bring a companion on the trip). Best of all, each passenger gets a window seat — two windows, actually, given that this is no airplane.

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Virgin Galactic’s First Powered Test Flight Is A Stunning Success

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Should I ever find $200,000 while hunting beneath the cushions of my couch — and 199,999 other couches — then I would see nothing inherently wrong with spending that money on taking a trip into space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. They’ve been working the last two years on a rocket-propelled passenger craft, performing many test “flights” where the craft was dropped from a carrier plane and successfully glided without power back down to Earth. Well, they recently pulled out the rocket power, and man does that thing fly.

Richard Branson described his anticipation for the event in a Twitter post, saying, “Occasionally you have days that are ridiculously exciting. Today is such a day.” At around 8:00 AM Monday morning, the WhiteKnightTwo carrier reached an altitude of 50,000 ft and released the SpaceShipTwo, piloted by Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury. Once it got clear of the plane, the SpaceShipTwo blasted off towards the upper atmosphere, hurtling forward at supersonic speeds for around 16 seconds before the shutting off engine power. It’s truly a sight to be seen.