Turismo spaziale, Branson (Virgin) non molla

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur behind the commercial space plane Virgin Galactic, has vowed to continue with the space tourism venture after the rocket ship crashed after an explosion during a test flight, killing one of the pilots, seriously injuring another and leaving debris scattered over a wide area.

His comments came as he was travelling to the company’s Mojave desert base where an investigation is under way into how the test flight of the SpaceShipTwo ended in disaster. The accident has sparked questions over the future of the venture and whether it could safely transport passengers to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and return them to the ground.

Prof Tim O’Brien of Jodrell Bank Observatory said there would now be a “major delay” to Galactic’s first passenger flight. “This is difficult. This is dangerous. Something went wrong. This was the first flight using a new fuel, I believe,” he told the BBC. However, the setback would not diminish humans’ desire to escape the pull of gravity, O’Brien said. “It’s hard to imagine a future in which humans are not travelling in space … Somehow we have to get from here to there; it will require a lot of work and it is still extremely dangerous.”

John Logsdon, retired space policy director at George Washington University, said: “It’s a real setback to the idea that lots of people are going to be taking joyrides into the fringes of outer space any time soon. There were a lot of people who believed that the technology to carry people is safely at hand.” Tom Bower, a biographer of Branson, said the rocket being used by Galactic was “very crude”. He claimed engineers working on the project had told him the craft was “very dangerous”. “What happened yesterday, very sadly for the pilot obviously, was both predictable and inevitable,” Bower told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It was always dangerous and unfortunately was always going to end in tragedy.”

Branson said the journey to the Mojave desert spaceport was “one of the most difficult trips I have ever had to make”. “We’ve always known that the road to space is extremely difficult – and that every new transportation system has to deal with bad days early in their history. Space is hard – but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together,” he wrote on his website on Friday. “Everyone at Virgin Galactic, the Spaceship Company and Scaled Composites is deeply saddened by today’s events. All our thoughts are with the families of everyone affected by this tragic event, and we are doing everything we can to support them.”

Investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board were picking through the wreckage of SpaceShipTwo. The surviving pilot was airlifted to hospital after parachuting to the ground. The rocket plane suffered what officials called a “serious anomaly” just after separating from WhiteKnightTwo, the propeller-engined craft designed to carry it to 45,000 feet. Witnesses reported the spacecraft broke apart in the sky.

George Whitesides, chief executive and president of Virgin Galactic, said: “We are going to be supporting the investigation as we figure out what happened today and we are going to get through it.” About 800 people including celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Tom Hanks have bought tickets for a Virgin Galactic flight. John Goodwin, a retired British businessman, said he remained confident that he would eventually go into space.

“This is new territory; inevitably there are going to be accidents. There are 300 brains in the Mojave desert who will rectify the problem,” said Goodwin. “What happened yesterday came as a huge shock – it stopped me in my tracks. I have met a number of test pilots and my condolences go out to the relatives of the pilots involved yesterday. When you know the people, these things hit you harder.”

Alan Stern, a former Nasa scientist, has also bought seats to fly on Virgin Galactic for $250,000 (£156,000) apiece but was not rethinking his plans. “Let’s not be Chicken Littles here. I want to be part of the opening of this future frontier,” he said. Both crew members were test pilots for Scaled Composites, the Northrop Grumman division that designed and built the spacecraft for Virgin and lost three other employees in a July 2007 ground test accident.

Virgin Galactic said SpaceShipTwo was powered by a fuel mix that had not previously been used in flight, although it had been tested extensively on the ground. The company was unable to say whether the change to the fuel mix offered an explanation for the accident, which happened just before 11am local time. The crash served as another stark reminder of the dangers of space launches, three days after an unmanned rocket on supply mission to the international space station exploded seconds after takeoff from a Nasa launch facility in Virginia.

Nasa said in a statement: “While not a Nasa mission, the pain of this [new] tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration.” Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut and former test pilot, said he hoped experts would soon determine the cause of the crash. Although the human tragedy was horrific, he said these risks were innate when attempting to achieve something complex and new. “We call it the edge of the envelope, and when you’re trying to understand the edge of the envelope, whether in a spaceship or a plane, there are inevitably accidents,” Hadfield said.“It’s fundamental to our nature to be curious about what lies over the next hill.

Chris Johnston e Nicky Woolf
“Virgin Galactic will continue after fatal SpaceShipTwo crash, vows Branson”
1 novembre 2014