Richard Branson faces attacks from critics who say the 64-year-old English billionaire is attempting to dodge responsibility for Friday’s disastrous crash of his privately built spaceship that killed one pilot and seriously injured the other.
Branson has now been accused of turning his back on rocket scientists, who warned him that his SpaceShip Two was going to blow up — if not on Friday’s test flight, then on another one.
“This explosion is not a surprise. None whatsoever, I am sorry to say. It is exactly what I was expecting,” said rocket scientist Carolynne Campbell-Knight of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety. “It was Russian roulette which test flight blew up.”
Though Branson called the fatal crash, which left wreckage scattered over a five-mile stretch of California’s Mojave Desert, “a “massive setback for commercial space travel,” he also vowed to keep going with his plan to launch commercial space flights for super-rich tourists — 800 of whom have reportedly already paid as much as $240,000 for a single ticket on what would be a 15-minute flight into space.
Branson said that none of his customers — who include such Hollywood luminaries and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Russell Brand and Justin Bieber — have cancelled their reservations since the crash, and in fact, his Virgin Galactic spaceflight company has sold one additional ticket even after Friday’s disaster in the desert.
But Campbell-Knight says that Virgin corporation founder Branson doesn’t know what he’s doing, and the best move he could make is to just “give up.”
“They should stop, give up. Go away and do something they might be good at,” she said. “Like selling mobile phones. They should stay out of the space business.”
Another space flight expert, Tom Bower, told the BBC that it was no secret that Branson’s SpaceShip Two was an accident waiting to happen.
“All the engineers in California working on the project I’ve spoken to said it was very dangerous,” he said in a televised interview Saturday. “Just a few weeks ago the last of many of the Virgin Galactic engineers walked out of the factory and said he’d never work there again.”
Douglas Messier, a journalist who covers the private space flight industry, accused Branson of trying to shift blame for the crash onto the company that built the space ship; Mojave-based aerospace firm Scaled Composites — a move that Messier called “outrageous.”
“Previous flight tests [were] billed as joint Virgin and Scaled efforts,” Messier wrote on his Twitter feed. “Now that it blew up, the responsibility is Scaled alone.”
Messier also said that Richard Branson denied ever having met test pilot Mike Alsbury, who died in the crash.
In fact, the billionaire was present at the first flight of SpaceShip Two last year, which Alsbury also piloted, and later “partied” with the now-deceased test pilot, according to Messier.