Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo broke apart during an October 31 test launch, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury. Although the tragic death is a step back for the company that aims to be the “world’s first commercial spaceline,” many people still think that Virgin’s vision is worth the risk, the wait, and the money.
Virgin Galactic’s founder, Richard Branson, originally planned for the spaceline to be available by next spring, yet engineers and researchers had argued that the timeline was too short and ambitious to guarantee safety. Tommaso Sgobba, Virgin Galactic’s former head of safety, had long disagreed with Branson’s launch plans and told the Financial Times, “I have been saying for some years now this was an accident waiting to happen.”
In anticipation of commercial spaceflight, approximately 700 “Future Astronauts” from around the world have deposited over $89 million in the hope of taking the two-hour trip which Virgin Galactic says will include about five minutes of weightlessness. Though it is now unclear how long the project will be delayed as a result of the accident, the company says that only about 24 people who have reserved spots as “Future Astronauts” have asked for refunds since the event.
Woohee Han, a sophomore at Millburn High School in New Jersey, told JSR, “Even after the accident, I would still go on a trip like this if I could, and a lot of other people would, too.”
Han continued, “What happened was a tragedy, but the spaceline is still in early stages. Mistakes and accidents are inevitable.”
While Han acknowledges that the price for the flight, which may reach as high as $250,000, is steep, he is optimistic about the future.
“I am sure Virgin will come up with better and more successful technology within my lifetime that will enable me to afford to travel into space,” Han said.
Cindy Qiang, a sophomore at Westfield High School in New Jersey, told JSR, “Virgin’s mission is very bold and encouraging. I want to go into space even if it’s just for a couple hours.”
“Still,” she continued, “I would prefer if I knew that the trip would be completely safe.”
Despite the accident, the public’s excitement and anticipation for Virgin Galactic’s spaceline seems unabated. The company has released a statement sending condolences to the pilot’s family while reassuring customers that plans to continue research are unaffected.