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Branson on Virgin Galactic fatal crash: 'Space is hard – but worth it'

Without those willing to take risks we wouldn't have antibiotics, cars, aircraft and so much more. Those involved in the project are aware of risks and minimise the risks as much as they reasonably can. RIP and commiserations.

Richard Branson has always been there for his people and this is no exception.

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Dwarves on the Sholders of Giants

RIP the Giant.

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Except he isn't doing "space travel" - he is doing a brief sub-orbital hop for people who either don't understand the difference or just want to say they have done it.

It isn't advancing human-whatsit anymore than millionaires having a flight in a jet fighter.

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Maybe so, but they are still doing advanced science and engineering. There may well be applications for their novel "re-entry" system in future space planes. Or maybe it will simply be a dead end that others will not have to waste time following now they've seen it done.

There's only so much that can be simulated. Eventually someone has to go out and build the thing and make it work.

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yes, but...

there has been sustained criticism, from within the industry, of their use of nitrous oxide based rockets since the explosion in 2007 which killed 3 people.

on the plus side, Justin Bieber is booked on the first flight...

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Oh no it is

> It isn't advancing human-whatsit anymore than millionaires having a flight in a jet fighter.

How did you work that out?

Every step (even the ones in the wrong directions) is a step in the right direction. You will be saying the deaths involved were pointless mortality next.

Yes of course the deaths are unnecessary, it's why experimental stuff is built with as much safety as it is possible to feature. Nobody wants anyone to die. But you can't live without being subject to that universal get out clause.

The point is that the more you give a taste of the exotic to, the more there are that want a taste.

If only very, very few ever got to ride a horse, we would not have jet travel widely available for all today. You start off with a bicycle and progress to a car. That's how it works.

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It is not in a loop.

Sure, the plan is a fun-fair ride, please study the conic sections, hint, it is one of those.

Exactly the same as the path of one of those fighters, only differences are the height and the space ... and the price.

The fighter jet ballistic flights are cheap enough for the non-millionaire with the money to spend, or who simply wants to directly experience the view once. (also a good example where the split infinitive is the best way).

They do go very high.

The shuttlecock concept in the Scaled Composites design is very interesting, but it is diffult to see how it could apply to anything but relatively slow suborbital flights.

By definition, it is a sub-orbital technique.

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Re: It is not in a loop.

Difficult, of course. Should have looked at the preview.

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Re: Oh no it is

Yes, pointless mortality.

"experimental stuff is built with as much safety as it is possible" - except that VG weren't doing that, they were desperately trying to pretend their nitrous hybrid technology works, while most rocket engineers have said it isn't suitable for human, never mind passenger, flight.

In that process they threw the already-limited (this is not their first fatal accident) safety measures they employed out of the window - for a start, there is no way a new fuel grain should be tried out in a piloted flight.

The safety culture was and is wrong, PR flacks overriding the engineers and safety people - the vice-president in charge of propulsion, the vice-president in charge of safety, and the chief aerodynamics engineer have all recently resigned.

They used aircraft-technology safety techniques, which do not work with rockets.

And the people who make the decisions do not understand rocket science.

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Re: Oh no it is

>How did you work that out?

The virgin "spacecraft" isn't a step to space like SpaceX or even the shuttle.

It is a sub-orbital ballistic flight to get somebody to an official definition of "space" so they can say they have done it. It is more like designing and building a helicopter that can reach 30,000ft so you can run tourist trips to the top of Everest. Technically challenging - yes, dangerous - yes, profitable - yes, but a breakthrough in mountaineering - no.

Frankly the "he died for the future of the human race in space" PR releases are like comparing somebody being killed on a jet ski accident on holiday to the sailors that died on Atlantic convoys in WWII.

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Re: Oh no it is

And you don't think a vehicle which can do a sub-orbital flight and return to be used hundreds of times is worth anything?

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Re: Oh no it is

I agree with you on the value of the project. Your analogy on that is pretty right.

You are being extremely cruel with regard to the brave test pilot who died! Your analogies are completely wrong on that. He would have not expected to ride an exploding vehicle. Have a little respect!

Now though, if Branson himself had been along as the trial passenger, a little schadenfreude may have been in order.

... but he wasn't.

He also seems to have been pretty inattentive, even following serial resignations of important managers.

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It is not a re-entry system, it is a return system that is not useful at orbital velocities.

Even after siowing a craft that is in orbit down enough, it is pointless. Possible use cases: fun -fair ride for the very wealthy; platform for launching small satellites into short-lived LEO, whatever else NASA gave them money for. My guess, atmosphere and lower ionosphere studies.

Not connected to the recent explosion, I am sure they've run many simulations, but I wonder if the far greater angular inertia of this one may not prevent the shuttlecock return?

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Re: Oh no it is

I am sure that some of the people at Scaled understand aerodynamics and rocketry rather well.

I still think the X-prize would've been much more interesting with their team disqualified on the grounds of US government dependence and the contest running longer. They were the least independent participants, despite the fig leaves. Flights were impressive.

One of the many lies on Wikipedia, they say it was entirely privately funded, easy to refute.

Scaled was the employer of one of the test pilots. Is the employer of the survivor.

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Re: Oh no it is

I wasn't saying anything about the pilot - if anything their PR dept + beardie were being disrespectful by putting out an overblown "The Right Stuff" hero type statements with an eye to the share price.

The pilot died testing an prototype aircraft that was very clever, very novel and an excellent piece of engineering and everybody is rightfully sad about that but it is the same as if a driver had died testing a formula 1 car.

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human endevour

And besides, how many people should stop crossing the road or driving because or road traffic fatalities?

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Boffin

Re: human endevour

People have very warped perceptions of risks. Just look at all of the antics that have taken place, especially in/by the US, over terrorism over the last dozen years due to 911. Terrorism strikes the fear that it does because one cannot see it coming and its apparent randomness in whether one will be a victim of it. Yet in the last 12 years, the US has absorbed over one hundred 911’s in terms of sudden & seemingly random deaths from automobile accidents, which amount to about 30,000 deaths per year. The threat of terrorism is real. But it's very small compared to other threats to our lives that we live with comfortably every day.

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Re: human endevour

I don't feel comfortable about ever-increasing numbers of cars and trucks, or about ever-wider expanses of asphalt, the noise, de-socialising effects, death rates and much more.

Sure, road networks are needed for moving goods around, and people sometimes, but the world would be that much nicer if rail were the backbone for moving goods in the country and people in cities most of the time.

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Re: human endevour

i get what you are saying, but it's naive to compare deaths caused by a deliberate act, such as 9/11, to deaths caused accidentally.

it's also disrespectful, I think.

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Re: human endeavour

The USAnians are famous for having stupid dog in the manger rulers. As with the worst excesses in all bad governments, the sensible learn to do without. What is considered criminal these days will eventually be outgrown -the same way the the USSR has been consigned to history.

Fortunately of all the empires in history the USA is remarkably savvy in the way it deals out regicide. Yes I know they were remarkably slow with the last buffoon but at least he was so bloody stupid he was funny. And there is still time to do him. (One can but hope.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: human endevour

I defy anyone to say the deaths of people killed on the roads every year are any less tragic, pointless, or preventable than those of 9/11.

What they are is un-newsworthy, precisely because they happen all the time.

But I don't think either case relates to the story. Being a test pilot has always been a risky occupation, and the people involved voluntarily take on those risks. A risk wouldn't be a risk if it didn't sometimes turn into reality.

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Re: human endeavour

It is not just naive and impolite, it is a completely odd comparison, reflecting on the troll mentality of the OP.

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Re: on the up side

Jealous much?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: on the up side

Are you employed?

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Re: on the up side

Ahhhh, people and odds... Like the many people who say 'it won't happen to them' ..... but yet they are convinced they are going to win the lottery that week

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Pint

To eternity and beyond...

I think Richard Branson summed it up well with "Space is hard"

Long before man was exiting the stratosphere into space, the test pilots flying the "X" craft were pushing the limits trying to exceed the sound barrier, that in itself was a feat in the 50's and many paid with their lives in this quest too. The film "The Right Stuff" briefly covered this pioneering era of pre-space flight

Today most tvehciles that head into space are launched vertically, engineers and space agencies have that principle down to a tee, however, as we've seen in the past and also saw earlier this week, things can still go horribly wrong.

The Virgin Spaceship X program is still in its infancy, the methodologies and technologies are constantly being explored and improved.

Sadly, like any form of flight, this carries a calculated risk as engineers strive to perfect their designs and the technology wrapped up within them.

Our condolences to those who risk life and limb whilst pushing the envelope in man's quest for outer earth travel and unfortunately pay the ultimate price.

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

X-15. Mothership launched X-plane managed, from 1959-1968, 198 powered test flights with one fatality.

Joe Walker crossed the edge of space (100 km up) in July 1963 which - though not as high as the Mercury missions - makes him 7th American in space.

(Walker was killed when his chase plane collided with the XB-70 Mach 3 bomber - a publicity shot too far as it turned out)

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Holmes

Re: To eternity and beyond...

That was one which went into the books: X-15 Flight 3-65-97

Michael J. Adams got confused and had no way to ascertain the heading:

The ground controllers sought to get the X-15 straightened out, but there was no recommended spin recovery technique for the X-15, and engineers knew nothing about the aircraft's supersonic spin tendencies.

The board made two major recommendations: install a telemetered heading indicator in the control room, visible to the flight controller; and medically screen X-15 pilot candidates for labyrinth (vertigo) sensitivity. As a result of the X-15's crash, the FRC added a ground-based "8 ball" attitude indicator (Horton's idea) in the control room to furnish mission controllers with real time pitch, roll, yaw, heading, angle of attack, and sideslip information.

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

"We choose to do these things not because they are easy ..."

JFK

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

i just googled "space related deaths" and was informed that, as of 2013, there had been only 13 fatalities. This includes *all* Soviet programs, moon landings, ISS, Space shuttle etc.

Beardie's activities have to date killed four people (this latest accident and 3 in a 2007 explosion).

That doesn't seem quite right, on balance.

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

> "We choose to do these things not because they are easy ..."

...but because we wanted to get re-elected.

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@Emmanuel

I wouldn't trust Google then. I count 14 from just two shuttle disasters (challenger + Columbia)

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

I agree with your thoughts on 'beardie', but the number you give doesn't seem to correspond to reality (actual number has to be a little higher, at least double) and is only for orbital flight or attempts at that, it is simple arithmetic.

Two shuttle disasters, Apollo 1, several deaths in the Soviet programme, more.

Also doesn't take deaths in the development processes into account.

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

That's because you're googled research did not count ground-based accidents done during the development - like explosions during static engine testing. Whereas the Virgin-based accidents include three people killed during an engine fuel flow test at a subcontractor's venue. So hardly an accurate standard of comparison. If you research all of the R&D accidents at Boeing, Rocketdyne, Rockwell, etc., you will find a lot, lot more than 13...

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

At least double may be wrong, but clearly, over thirteen for pilots and crew on orbital missions from the USA alone.

Former Soviet programme, several acknowledged deaths, others rumoured, but it is likely that they are dinsiformation.

They never had a disaster in carrying humans to match Apollo 1 or the two shuttle disasters.

Certainly not only thirteen as you claim on the basis of a quick Google search and a scan of the headlines on the first page of results.

Losses in flight training, playing too hard in the allowed flight time, I don't know, only that Gagarin was the most noteworthy. There were several others.

In testing, who knows?

It looks as if your beardie has been more than a little irresponsible here.

There are a couple of interesting articles out there about safety warnings for Virgin Galactic and Scaled not being too careful and having been warned.

The Reg has become slow, they don't beat mainstream sites for speed on sci. & tech. info too often (at all?) lately, unlike the days where mainstream papers would copy slabs of articles from here.

Maybe they are too busy censoring quite inoccuous posts that say things some trick-cyclist-type posters don't like to hear, my recent experience.

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Re: To eternity and beyond...

False data maybe? The 3 in 2007 were during a ground test. So if we include ground deaths, the number does go up.

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Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

This is not about space exploration, this is a rich man putting good men at risk in order to develop a sham space experience for other rich men (and women).

Is he saying that it's worth killing off a few pilots for this? In that case he should be with them on every flight of that bogus space plane, to lend moral support. Then he would earn the right to speak like that.

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Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

I wondered about "We will cooperate fully with all the authorities involved in the investigation" - is there an option to not fully cooperate with the authorities?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

Automobiles were originally pioneered in the 19th Century for the benefit if rich people. Most of early attempts at powered flight in the 19th and early 20th Centuries as well. Science in general, up until the early 20th Century, was a rich man's hobby.

If you go through life not being able to see past the end of your own nose, you are likely to go through life only by bumping into things.

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Big Brother

Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

"is there an option to not fully cooperate with the authorities?"

Probably not and as authorities are meant to check for problems in the routine to make the routine even less risk-free (or not), they will be fecking useless here.

"Ummm... you were using a novel rocket motor? Uh, err........"

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Windows

Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

"I wondered about "We will cooperate fully with all the authorities involved in the investigation" - is there an option to not fully cooperate with the authorities?"

Lawyers will no doubt be checking the relevant statutes and regulations to see how much/little needs to be disclosed &c. Remember, this project is all private companies, no govt contractors, so no federal oversight unless provided for in some kind of licence or permission.

Apollo 1 fire caused a *serious* rethink at NASA after their own internal investigation, and the inevitable congressional committees. Hopefully same here.

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Flame

Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

This is not about space exploration, this is a rich man putting good men at risk in order to develop a sham space experience for other rich men (and women).

Utter bullshit. These people are professionals and hired to do a job. This is no different and arguably morally superior to when the government hires these people to test new weapon systems or whatever idea crawled out of a politicial animal's brainbox. And then possibly denies that they were killed during testing.

Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

If it goes into the books, it is always worth it. This is the name of the game in this universe.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

Re: Apollo 1 fire;

There's a school of thought that believes Grissom and his crew (Chaffee, White) were murdered by NASA/CIA etc. Grissom was an outspoken critic of the Apollo programme and doubted that they could ever reach the Moon.

I wonder if the test pilots of Virgin Galactic were as free with their mouths?

Not Trolling here, its just that the world is a fucked up place.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

There's a school of thought that believes Grissom and his crew (Chaffee, White) were murdered by NASA/CIA etc.

Smoking Man was seen exiting mission control room.

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Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

Its about making space easier. Things like space planes and getting things into LEO with reusable tech, or "easily launched" tech, to reduce the cost of space.

Every big leap of this form is the playground of the rich at first - because they can afford to buy into the early stages. In the future though? Could be very good for us as a species.

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Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

"Smoking Man was seen exiting mission control room."

Hardly surprising in the '60s when nearly every seat in the control room had an ashtray the size of a dinner plate.

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Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

Given the level of stress and tension, I'm still surprised there wasn't an open bar available immediately after lift-off.

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Re: Is it really worth it IN THIS CASE, though?

Sorry, you are entirely wrong about Scaled Composites, apart from this and their X-Prize project, military (government) contracts are their lifeblood, and their X-Prize run would never have happened without them.

Space Ship I was, technically, an interesting innovation.

White Knight is almost identical to a design they developed under a government contract.

Virgin Galactic also has a substantial contract with NASA.

There is no comparing a planned fun-fair ride with Apollo 1, except that both have now involved the death of test pilots.

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