The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that last year’s deadly Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two crash over the Mojave Desert could have been avoided had the craft been equipped with a protective system to overcome the co-pilot’s mistake, according to its newly-released report.
“We have already made changes in the wake of the accident to further enhance safety,” Scaled Composites, an aerospace company that partnered with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to develop the craft, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
Co-pilot Michael Alsbury, 39, had prematurely pulled the ship’s braking system at a very high speed and elevation, which placed tremendous stress on the craft, causing it to break apart in mid-air, killing him. Pilot Peter Siebold miraculously survived the deadly crash but suffered serious injuries.
According to NPR, Siebold’s injuries included four fractures to his right arm, a dislocated shoulder, a fractured right clavicle, and a fractured little toe on his left foot.
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart told the AP that he did not believe Scaled Composites had taken shortcuts that comprised the spacecraft’s safety, but admitted the company had not considered that the “highly-trained test pilots” would make the mistake they did. Hart said he hopes the investigation will help prevent similar accidents from occurring again in the future.
Virgin Galactic has reportedly collected roughly $750 million for its space tourism program–$250,000 from 700 people in 58 countries, notes the AP. It has proceeded with their plans for space flight, despite the tragedy, and is in the process of building another craft for space travel.