Rutan: Pilot Error Most Likely Cause of SpaceShipTwo Crash

Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee's of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt's wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its "mothership", WhiteKnightTwo over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg)
Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee’s of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt’s wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its “mothership”, WhiteKnightTwo over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg)

The Tribune talks to Burt Rutan about the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo:

Investigators reportedly believe that the test pilot who died in the crash, 39-year-old Mike Alsbury, may have committed an error by unlocking a lever on the craft’s “feathering system” too early. The system is designed to create drag as the space ship descends. Pilot Peter Siebold, 43, parachuted down and suffered injuries.

“We had a fatal accident with a manned spaceship where there was nothing wrong with the spaceship,” Rutan said. “I hope it doesn’t put a damper on things. … This is a blossoming industry.”Rutan said the only thing that makes sense to him about the accident is that during an anxious period, Alsbury may have distractedly performed the task.

“During moments of stress combined with fear, pilots can have a kind of unconscious muscle memory,” Rutan said. “They can do tasks before they’re supposed to. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

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