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Photos of the Week - Virgin Galactic Crash: Is Space Travel Still Worth the Risk?

by / November 4, 2014

On Friday, Oct. 31, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo was conducting a powered test flight, and ultimately disintegrated above California's Mojave Desert, killing co-pilot Michael Tyner Alsbury and injuring co-pilot Peter Siebold, who parachuted to the ground. Lightweight debris has been found as far away as 30 to 35 miles from the main crash site, NBC reported.

According to a statement from the company on Nov. 4, the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) investigation thus far has determined that the problem was not related to the engine or the fuel. 

"The NTSB also evaluated the vehicle’s feathering mechanism, which is the unique technology that turns the wing booms into position for re-entry. The NTSB indicated that the lock/unlock lever was pulled prematurely based on recorded speed at the time, and the agency suggested that subsequent aerodynamic forces then deployed the feathering mechanism, which resulted in the in-flight separation of the wings and vehicle," the statement reads. "At this time, the NTSB investigation is still ongoing and no cause has yet been determined – these are purely facts based on initial findings. We are all determined to understand the cause of the accident and to learn all we can."

Despite the tragedy, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, says the program will continue – and that space travel is still "absolutely ... worth the risks," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Branson told Today host Matt Lauer that it’s a grand program that has had a horrible setback, “but I don’t think anybody watching this program would want us to abandon it at this stage.” He also told CBS This Morning that after the crash, two people signed up that day for rides to space and paid in full “as a gesture of goodwill.”

But not everyone is willing to take a chance. 

On Nov. 4, the company revealed that 20 of the 700 customers who have paid to reserve their seat on an inaugural trip to space have asked for their money back, according to The Guardian, but Virgin Galactic would not disclose who those investors were.