Pilot killed in space tourism crash identified

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Pilot killed in space tourism crash identified
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Agents from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), FBI and Sheriff's comb through the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Agents from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), FBI and Sheriff's comb through the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Agents from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), FBI and Sheriff's comb through the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 2 : Agents from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), FBI and Sheriff's comb through the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1 : Christopher A Hart, Acting Chairman of the NTSB walks away after a press conference at the Mojave Air and Space Port regarding the crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California on November 1, 2014 in Mojave, Ca;ifornia. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 while was being develpoed by Richard Branson, crashed on Friday killing one and injurung one. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1 : Christopher A Hart, Acting Chairman of the NTSBspeaks to the media during a press conference at the Mojave Air and Space Port regarding the crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California on November 1, 2014 in Mojave, Ca;ifornia. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 while was being develpoed by Richard Branson, crashed on Friday killing one and injurung one. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1 : Christopher A Hart, Acting Chairman of the NTSBspeaks to the media during a press conference at the Mojave Air and Space Port regarding the crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California on November 1, 2014 in Mojave, Ca;ifornia. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 while was being develpoed by Richard Branson, crashed on Friday killing one and injurung one. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1 : Christopher A Hart, Acting Chairman of the NTSBspeaks to the media during a press conference at the Mojave Air and Space Port regarding the crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California on November 1, 2014 in Mojave, Ca;ifornia. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 while was being develpoed by Richard Branson, crashed on Friday killing one and injurung one. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1 : Christopher A Hart, Acting Chairman of the NTSBspeaks to the media during a press conference at the Mojave Air and Space Port regarding the crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California on November 1, 2014 in Mojave, Ca;ifornia. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 while was being develpoed by Richard Branson, crashed on Friday killing one and injurung one. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Agents from the NTSB and the FBI survey the debris from SpaceShipTwo out in a desert field near to the crash site on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Debris from SpaceShipTwo lies on the road on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Debris from SpaceShipTwo lies on the desert field and road on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Debris from SpaceShipTwo lies in a desert field on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Agents from the NTSB and the FBI survey the debris from SpaceShipTwo out in a desert field near to the crash site on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Agents from the NTSB and the FBI survey the debris from SpaceShipTwo out in a desert field near to the crash site on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: A sheriff's deputy surveys the area nea to the crash site of SpaceShipTwo out in a desert field on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Debris from SpaceShipTwo lies in a desert field on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Agents from the NTSB and the FBI survey the debris from SpaceShipTwo out in a desert field near to the crash site on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Wreckage from Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is seen near Cantil, California, on November 01, 2014. British tycoon Richard Branson insisted Saturday his dream of commercial space travel remained alive but warned his company would not 'press on blindly' without knowing what caused the spacecraft crash that killed one pilot and seriously injured another on October 31. Speaking to reporters after arriving in the California facility which had been the hub of Virgin Galactic's ambitious space program, Branson said safety remained his paramount concern. 'We owe it to our test pilots to find out exactly what went wrong, and once we've found out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on,' Branson told reporters. His comments at the Mojave Air and Space Port came as a team of federal investigators began probing the causes of Friday's accident, which dealt a devastating setback to the cause of commercial space tourism. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
MOJAVE, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Debris from SpaceShipTwo lies in a desert field on November 1, 2014, in Mojave, California. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Wreckage from Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is seen near Cantil, California, on November 01, 2014. British tycoon Richard Branson insisted Saturday his dream of commercial space travel remained alive but warned his company would not 'press on blindly' without knowing what caused the spacecraft crash that killed one pilot and seriously injured another on October 31. Speaking to reporters after arriving in the California facility which had been the hub of Virgin Galactic's ambitious space program, Branson said safety remained his paramount concern. 'We owe it to our test pilots to find out exactly what went wrong, and once we've found out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on,' Branson told reporters. His comments at the Mojave Air and Space Port came as a team of federal investigators began probing the causes of Friday's accident, which dealt a devastating setback to the cause of commercial space tourism. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
An National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team surveys a tail section from the crashed Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo near Cantil, California, on November 01, 2014. British tycoon Richard Branson insisted Saturday his dream of commercial space travel remained alive but warned his company would not 'press on blindly' without knowing what caused the spacecraft crash that killed one pilot and seriously injured another on October 31. Speaking to reporters after arriving in the California facility which had been the hub of Virgin Galactic's ambitious space program, Branson said safety remained his paramount concern. 'We owe it to our test pilots to find out exactly what went wrong, and once we've found out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on,' Branson told reporters. His comments at the Mojave Air and Space Port came as a team of federal investigators began probing the causes of Friday's accident, which dealt a devastating setback to the cause of commercial space tourism. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Billionaire Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson salutes the bravery of test pilots, and vows to find out what caused the crash of his prototype space tourism rocket that killed one crew member and injured another during a news conference in Mojave, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo blew apart about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Mojave airfield after being released from a carrier aircraft Friday. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket explodes in the air during a test flight on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Kenneth Brown)
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. Saturday, Nov 1, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket separates from the carrier aircraft prior to it exploding in the air during a test flight on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Kenneth Brown)
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket explodes in the air during a test flight on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Kenneth Brown)
This image from video by KABC TV Los Angeles shows wreckage of what is believed to be SpaceShipTwo in Southern California's Mojave Desert on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. A Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket exploded after taking off on a test flight, a witness said Friday. (AP Photo/KABC TV)
Crewmembers prepare a SpaceShipTwo attached to its mother ship at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., as the sun rises Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Potential space tourists gathered in California's Mojave Desert to see the latest progress from Briton Richard Branson's space tourism enterprise. The company has been testing SpaceShipTwo designed to take paying passengers into space. Commercial flights will begin once testing is complete. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
The tail of the Virgin Galactic flight that crashed Friday in the Mojave Desert. (ABC 23)
First photo: @virgingalactic's #SpaceShipTwo crashes http://t.co/k5JynVMGQ9 http://t.co/NcIr01NXcv
PHOTO: #SpaceShipTwo: crews transport patient by helicopter http://t.co/MwSSbiJkIN
file photo from @virgingalactic showing test pilots with #SpaceShipTwo and #WhiteKnightTwo earlier this year http://t.co/1hFtpRTJAQ
1 dead, 1 injured after #VirginGalactic #SpaceShipTwo crashes during test flight: http://t.co/Ez82WFt9GB http://t.co/EvekjOGR0q
More wreckage of the spacecraft. (ABC23)
Emergency personnel responding to the crash. (ABC 23)
The aircraft landed in a vast desert area far from any population centers. (ABC 23)
This photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. The spacecraft was dropped from its "mothership," WhiteKnightTwo, over Mojave, Calif., on Monday, April 29, 2013. The spaceship, bankrolled by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, made its first powered flight in a test that moves Virgin Galactic toward its goal of flying into space later this year. While SpaceShipTwo did not break out of the atmosphere during the test flight, it marked a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic, which intends to take passengers on suborbital joyrides. (AP Photo/Virgin Galactic, Mark Greenberg)
SpaceShipTwo is seen mounted under its mother ship White Knight at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Potential space tourists gathered in California's Mojave Desert to see the latest progress from Briton Richard Branson's space tourism enterprise. The company has been testing SpaceShipTwo designed to take paying passengers into space. Commercial flights will begin once testing is complete. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
British entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with SpaceShipTwo, mounted under its mother ship White Knight at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Potential space tourists gathered in California's Mojave Desert to see the latest progress from Branson's space tourism enterprise. The company has been testing SpaceShipTwo designed to take paying passengers into space. Commercial flights will begin once testing is complete. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
A crew member is seen with SpaceShipTwo, suspended beneath the twin fuselage mother ship White Knight, at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Potential space tourists gathered in California's Mojave Desert to see the latest progress from Briton Richard Branson's space tourism enterprise. The company has been testing SpaceShipTwo designed to take paying passengers into space. Commercial flights will begin once testing is complete. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Richard Branson, poses for photographers with a model of the LauncherOne rocket, from the window of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, on the third day of the Farnborough International Air Show in Farnborough, U.K., on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. The Farnborough International Air Show runs from July 9-15. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrive before dawn at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mohave, California on November 1, 2014. British tycoon Richard Branson was poised to rally his grieving Virgin Galactic staff in California on Saturday as investigators began probing the test flight crash of a spacecraft that left one pilot dead and another seriously injured. A shocked Branson headed to the Mojave Desert within hours of Friday's crash, which saw the company's futuristic suborbital vehicle broken into several pieces and scattered across a wide area. The crash was the second disaster to rock the private space industry in the space of a few days after an Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded after take-off in Virginia in Tuesday. Experts say Friday's accident will delay the advent of commercial space tourism by several years.Virgin Galactic had hoped to start ferrying wealthy customers to the edge of space in 2015, charging $250,000 per person for a ticket on the company's six-seater SpaceShipTwo. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrive before dawn at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mohave, California on November 1, 2014. British tycoon Richard Branson was poised to rally his grieving Virgin Galactic staff in California on Saturday as investigators began probing the test flight crash of a spacecraft that left one pilot dead and another seriously injured. A shocked Branson headed to the Mojave Desert within hours of Friday's crash, which saw the company's futuristic suborbital vehicle broken into several pieces and scattered across a wide area. The crash was the second disaster to rock the private space industry in the space of a few days after an Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded after take-off in Virginia in Tuesday. Experts say Friday's accident will delay the advent of commercial space tourism by several years.Virgin Galactic had hoped to start ferrying wealthy customers to the edge of space in 2015, charging $250,000 per person for a ticket on the company's six-seater SpaceShipTwo. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket separates from the carrier aircraft prior to it exploding in the air during a test flight on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Kenneth Brown)
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. Saturday, Nov 1, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. The explosion killed a pilot aboard and seriously injured another while scattering wreckage in Southern California's Mojave Desert, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
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MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) - Billionaire Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson vowed Saturday to find out what caused the crash of his prototype space tourism rocket, killing one crew member and injuring another, but sounded a cautious note about any move to quickly push the project forward.

In grim remarks at the Mojave Air and Space Port where the craft known as SpaceShipTwo was under development, Branson gave no details of Friday's accident and deferred to the National Transportation Safety Board, whose team had just arrived.

"We are determined to find out what went wrong," he said, asserting that safety has always been the top priority of the program that envisions taking wealthy tourists six at a time to the edge of space for a brief experience of weightlessness and a view of Earth below.

"Yesterday we fell short," he said. "We'll now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward."

Branson added, however, that "we are not going to push on blindly." He also criticized early speculation.

"To be honest, I find it slightly irresponsible that people who know nothing about what they're saying can be saying things before the NTSB makes their comments," he said.

The pilot killed in the test flight was identified Saturday as Michael Tyner Alsbury, 39, of nearby Tehachapi, who worked for Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic Spaceship Crashes During California Test Flight

Alsbury was one of the pilots who flew SpaceShipTwo's first powered flight in April 2013 and was one of three Scaled pilots honored that year by the Society of Experimental Pilots for a technical presentation based on their experience in the craft's flight test program.

More than a dozen investigators in a range of specialties were forming teams to examine the crash site, collect data and interview witnesses, NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart told a press conference at Mojave Air and Space Port, where the winged spacecraft was under development.

Hart said the investigation will have similarities to a typical NTSB probe as well as some differences.

"This will be the first time we have been in the lead of a space launch (accident) that involved persons onboard," said Hart, noting that the NTSB did participate in investigations of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters.

Hart said he did not immediately know the answers to such questions as whether the spaceship had flight recorders or the altitude of the accident, but noted that test flights are usually well documented.

Virgin Galactic plans to fly passengers to altitudes more than 62 miles above the Earth but test flights so far had been well below that.

The NTSB investigators were expected to head to an area about 20 miles from the Mojave airfield where debris from SpaceShipTwo fell over a wide area of uninhabited desert Friday morning.

Branson has been the front-runner in the fledgling space tourism industry, which has taken years longer than expected by hundreds of enthusiasts who have already put down deposits to reserve seats.

On Saturday, he said none of the money has been spent and anyone who wanted a refund could get it, but no one has asked. Rather, he said, someone signed up on the day of the accident in a show of support.

"They've been patient to date," he said of his customers. "I think most of them will be patient longer."

The spacecraft broke up after being released from a carrier aircraft at high altitude, according to Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the accident.

The deceased pilot was found inside wreckage and another parachuted out and was flown by helicopter to a hospital, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said. The survivor's name was not released.

The accident occurred just as it seemed commercial space flights were near.

Branson once envisioned operating flights by 2007. Last month, he talked about the first flight being next spring with his son.

Friday's flight marked the 55th for SpaceShipTwo, which was intended to be the first of a fleet of craft. This was only the fourth flight to include a brief rocket firing. The rocket fires after the spacecraft is released from the underside of a larger carrying plane. During other flights, the craft either was not released from its mothership or functioned as a glider after release.

At 60 feet long, SpaceShipTwo featured two large windows for each of up to six passengers, one on the side and one overhead.

Virgin Galactic - owned by Branson's Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi - sells seats on each prospective journey for $250,000. The company says that "future astronauts," as it calls customers, include Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand. The company reports receiving $90 million from about 700 prospective passengers.

Friday's accident was the second this week involving private space flight. On Tuesday, an unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff in Virginia.

SpaceShipTwo is based on aerospace design maverick Burt Rutan's award-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which became the first privately financed manned rocket to reach space in 2004.

Friday's death was not the first associated with the program. Three people died during a blast at the Mojave Air and Space Port in 2007 during testing work on a rocket motor of SpaceShipTwo.

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