NTSB Cites Pilot Error in SpaceShipTwo Crash Report

Details released of harrowing in-flight breakup.

SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight
SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight
SpaceShipTwoVirgin Galactic

The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded its investigation into the fatal accident involving Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. The space ship disintegrated during a test flight on October 31, 2014, resulting in the death of copilot Michael Alsbury.

The NTSB concluded that Scaled Composites, the contractor for the program, failed to "consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard to the SpaceShipTwo vehicle." The NTSB found that Alsbury prematurely unlocked the feather system "as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced." This lead to an un-commanded feather extension that ultimately caused the in-flight breakup.

The pilot who survived the accident, Pete Siebold, gave the NTSB a harrowing account of his experience falling through the sky from about 50,000 feet after being thrown from the space ship. Siebold had to extract himself from the seat before the parachute could automatically deploy somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 feet. Siebold suffered multiple fractures, cuts, scratches and bruises, including corneal damage to his left eye as a result of the accident. The mask of his helmet was broken.

In a statement regarding the conclusion of the NTSB investigation, Virgin Galactic expressed its commitment to the commercial space program. "We are determined to learn and to improve as a result of this tragic accident," Virgin Galactic said.

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