SpaceShipTwo Crashes in Mojave Desert

One pilot died and one was seriously injured.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane suffered a “serious anomaly” over the California desert on Friday morning, breaking up and crashing. One pilot died and one was seriously injured.

The reported problem came after SpaceShipTwo fired its rocket engine in flight for the first time in more than nine months. Two pilots fly in SpaceShipTwo’s cockpit for the test flights. The most recent test occurred on October 7, when SpaceShipTwo made an unpowered, gliding flight back to the Mojave runway.

Today’s test flight began at 9:19 a.m. Pacific time, as WhiteKnightTwo carried the space plane to an altitude of 50,000 feet, an ascent that took about 45 minutes. SpaceShipTwo was then released for free flight, but ran into problems shortly after, reportedly exploding midflight.

The pilot killed was Michael Alsbury; the surviving pilot, who was conscious and had good vital signs when he was airlifted to the hospital, was Peter Siebold.

Designed by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, SpaceShipTwo is a rocket plane that Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to use to usher in an era of space tourism for $250,000 per flight.

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