Space Tourism Lurks in the Dark after Virgin Galactic Crash

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After the advent of commercial space revolution, we may have some concrete hope that human beings may finally begin to domesticate space travel. However, the quest for commercial space travel received a setback when the experimental spaceship named SpaceShipTwo manufactured by Virgin Galactic crashed over the Mojave Desert, California during a test flight killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.

Virgin Galactic has been the first company to have initiated the attempts of commercial space flights. This project commenced under the leadership of Richard Branson, a billionaire who has been known to have an eccentric approach to things. The project also has Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi as one of the major stakeholders.

The space flight is made up of two main ships, one being the mother ship named White Knight Two and the other smaller ship named SpaceShipTwo which will be carrying the passengers. The ship uses a unique “feathering” system that allows the spaceship to slow down by lifting and rotating its tail as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. After being activated, a lever rotates booms at the rear of the plane up to 90 degrees so they act as a rudder. After decelerating, the booms return to their normal position and the craft glides to Earth.

On October 31st, 2014, the SpaceShipTwo was launched in a test flight attached to the mother ship White Knight Two. After reaching a height of 50,000 feet, the SpaceShipTwo was released from the mother ship and it reached the speed of Mach 3.5. After deceleration, the correct procedure of activating the feathering system is when the speed comes to about 1.4 Mach, but according to Mr. Hart the co-pilot activated the system at Mach 1.0, the speed of sound.

Early investigations have indicated that the cause of the plane crash could have been a pilot error instead of mechanical failure. Investigators found that the co-pilot of SpaceShipTwo activated the “feathering” system before the craft could reach the recommended speed. However, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart told the media that it will take months for the investigations to come to a final conclusion for the reason of the crash. Check out the video aired by Bloomberg after the crash.

Virgin Galactic has undergone troubled times in the past as well. Being in development for several years now, the project had undergone a similar tragedy in 2007 when three people lost their lives due to an explosion on the ground during the testing of the rocket engine.

Virgin Galactic is yet to successfully test its new plastic-based fuel in flight. Also, in order for obtaining a license from the Federal Aviation Administration to carry passengers, the flights have to achieve a height of 62 miles at full speed which they have failed to achieve till now. Till date, the three flights of the Virgin Galactic have only achieved a height of 71000 ft. which is approximately 13 miles.

Earlier this year in September, Richard Branson had predicted that by March 2015, the first commercial flight would have been possible taking six passengers and two pilots. But after this recent tragedy it is highly unlikely that the lift off will get a green signal anytime soon.

Enthusiasts who have shown interest in this space flight have been waiting since July 2008. Tickets priced at $250,000 per person may look unrealistic but you will be surprised to know that already 750 people have booked their tickets for this unforgettable ride of a lifetime.

Today when the world is looking at habitability on Mars as a primary objective, one can only hope to see this project be a success in the years to come. After all, as the Architect of “The Matrix” movie says, and I quote, “Hope is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of humanity’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.” We continue to strive in achieving what many may have thought to be impossible but one day if we have the belief we will get there.

Space travel can be a marvel in the future. If this project would indeed be a success, imagine the artists and the poets who would look down upon the Earth, what new reflections they would bring that would lift up the human spirit that would thrust human consciousness to new heights.

Can tragedies like these be avoided or are we so enthusiastic of achieving something that we are ready to gamble with people’s lives and go ahead with our objectives in winning the race? Do share your thoughts below.

Image Source: Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

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