"From my eyes and my ears, I detected nothing abnormal," said Stuart Witt, the chief executive officer of the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Virgin Galactic operates. "I didn't detect anything other than a pause. It wasn't what did happen, it was what didn't I see or hear. If there was an explosion, I didn't see it." Parabolicarc.com, which had been livetweeting the flight, reports that SpaceShipTwo "came down in pieces" after exploding in mid-air.
The families of the test pilots have been notified, Mickey said. The names of the pilots have not yet been released. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is scheduled to arrive in Mojave on Saturday morning, as will the National Transportation Safety Board.
This has been a bad week for aerospace companies. On Oct. 28, Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff during a resupply mission to the International Space Station. No one was aboard the ship, and no one was injured. Today's accident, however, was in a vehicle designed to carry people rather than just cargo.
Here's an earlier tweet, showing WhiteKnightTwo paired with SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac:
Despite the grim week, Mojave's Witt enjoined the international community not to abandon space. "This is not easy. If it were easy, it would not be interesting," he said. "It hasn't been an easy week, it's been a challenge. But where I'm from, this is where you find out your true character."
Veteran space reporter Adam Rogers disagrees with this assessment. SpaceShipTwo is"not a vehicle for the exploration of frontiers. This would be true even if Virgin Galactic did more than barely brush up against the bottom of space," he writes at Wired, in an editorial entitled "Space Tourism Isn't Worth Dying For." "Virgin Galactic is building the world’s most expensive roller coaster, the aerospace version of Beluga caviar. It’s a thing for rich people to do: pay $250,000 to not feel the weight of the world."