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Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said his team is dedicated to finding out what led to Friday's fatal test flight of the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, and that he and millions of supporters of commercial space travel "would like to see the dream living on."
The National Transportation Safety Board began its investigation Saturday into what led to the explosion over California's Mojave Desert that killed one pilot, identified as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury, and injured a second, Peter Siebold, 43. Alsbury died at the scene, according to the Kern County Coroner’s Office. Siebold was headed to surgery Saturday, according to The Associated Press.
Branson told reporters that the Virgin Galactic program would "not push on blindly." "We owe it to our test pilots to figure out what went wrong. If we can overcome it, we’ll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on," the British businessman added. Branson conceded that the program "fell short," but pointed out that the early days of aviation were risky before they became safe.
He added that he is grateful for the outpouring of support he and Virgin Galactic have received. They got a message from the International Space Station, and someone even signed up and paid for a future commercial flight — even though the future of the program remains up in the air. More than 700 customers have paid as much as $250,000 to take a ride on SpaceShipTwo, but Branson said the money hasn't been spent and anyone who requests the payment back will get a refund.
"We may lose one or two [customers], but it doesn’t look like it," Branson added.
Before meeting with the employees of the Mojave Air and Space Port, he was asked if he was planning on becoming the first person to take a commercial space flight. He answered: "I hope so."
— Elisha Fieldstadt