Richard Branson's Reaction To The Fatal Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crash

Back in 2014, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashed into the Mojave desert, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other. Some prophesied that the dream was over — commercial space flight is just too dangerous. Almost 10 years later, however, billionaire owner Richard Branson is still at it, and has even engaged in a space race with fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk.

According to Insider, the deadly crash was caused by human error, when one of the pilots made the mistake of engaging the craft's feathering system too early during a highly stressful operation. Nonetheless, Virgin took responsibility for the catastrophe and cooperated with the subsequent inquiry, carried out by an independent body, the NTSB.

At the time, the BBC among others speculated that mega-rich celebrities who were hoping to one day make use of Virgin's service might abandon the project. Aside from the obvious dangers that come with blasting off into space, forays into space tourism have sometimes been criticized for being a waste of money and brainpower, aimed solely at entertaining bored rich people (via CBC).

Branson's reaction

The day after the crash occurred, billionaire owner Richard Branson was clearly shaken. He even remarked that it was possible that the accident would put an end to his venture into commercial space flight altogether. Speaking to journalists, he remained hopeful that that wouldn't be the case, stating, "once we find out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we will make absolutely certain that the dream lives on" (via The Guardian).

On his blog, he added "Space is hard — but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together" (via the BBC)

Branson announced that he would corporate fully with the coming investigation, which ultimately took nine months (via Insider). In the aftermath of the disaster, a public relations nightmare emerged that threatened to ruin Virgin's reputation. The Wall Street Journal, for example, ran a story that heavily criticized the project. They claimed that in spite of Virgin's flashy PR, the project was a nightmare, with managers constantly ignoring the warnings of engineers.

Wild speculation about the crash drove Branson to fury, and he complained to Independent that self-proclaimed experts were inventing sensational explanations out of thin air.

SpaceShipTwo after the crash

The crash report made by the National Transportation Safety Board identified the feathering system as the main culprit in the disaster and produced a host of safety recommendations (via Insider). Among the advice given, the Board recommended a fail-safe be introduced to prevent the feathering mechanism from opening too early at the behest of a hasty pilot.

After key changes were made to SpaceShipTwo's design, the craft was put back into action in 2016 (via Space). The new model, the VSS Unity, made it to Earth's boundary in 2018, renewing hopes about the project.

Finally, in 2021, Branson reassured potential customers by going up himself with a small team of companions. Although the craft did not pass the Kármán line, the official space boundary 62 miles up, experts say it still technically made it to space (via Space).

Further flights in 2021 have been delayed due to yet more safety concerns, but the company hopes to transport paying customers in 2022 for the princely sum of $450,000 (via The Washington Post).