SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) – The test pilot who was killed last Friday when the Virgin Galactic private space vehicle broke up over the Mojave Desert was a native of Scotts Valley.
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Michael Alsbury, 39, worked for Scaled Composites, the company working with Virgin Galactic to develop the space tourism craft.READ MORE: Lockdown-Violating Underground Gatherings Investigated Over Recent Spate of San Jose Shootings
Alsbury received degree aeronautical engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo after graduating as valedictorian of Soquel High School in 1993, according to the paper. He was living in Tehachapi with his wife and two small children prior to the crash.
The cause of Friday’s crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has not been determined, but investigators found the “feathering” system — which rotates the twin tail “feathers” to create drag — was activated before the craft reached the appropriate speed, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart said.
The system requires a two-step process to deploy. The co-pilot unlocked the system, but Hart said the second step occurred “without being commanded.”
“What we know is that after it was unlocked, the feathers moved into the deploy position, and two seconds later, we saw disintegration,” Hart said.
The finding moves away from initial speculation that an explosion brought down the craft.READ MORE: The Game Changer: New Test Helps Doctors Find Hidden Prostate Cancer
The investigation is months from being completed, and officials are looking at factors that include pilot error, mechanical failure, design problems and whether pressure existed to continue testing, Hart said.
“We are not edging toward anything. We’re not ruling anything out,” he said. “We are looking at all these issues to determine the root cause of this accident.”
SpaceShipTwo is based on aerospace design maverick Burt Rutan’s award-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which became the first privately financed manned rocket to reach space in 2004. Three people died in a blast at the Mojave Air and Space Port in 2007 while testing a rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo.
A second pilot, Peter Siebold, 43, parachuted to the ground and was hospitalized with injuries.
Virgin Galactic — owned by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi — plans to fly up to six passengers at a time more than 62 miles above Earth, where they can experience weightlessness. The company sells seats on each prospective journey for $250,000.
Branson told Sky News on Monday that the company will move forward despite the crash. He said there would be a “whole massive series of test flights” before any trips are made.MORE NEWS: Oakley School Board Interim Trustees Vote to Fill Vacant Seats; Reject Special Election
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