Fatal Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crash Blamed on Human Error

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Human error was responsible for the catastrophic 2014 crash of an experimental Virgin Galactic rocket ship.

Specifically, the “probable cause” of the crash was the “copilot’s unlocking of SpaceShipTwo’s feather locks,” according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The feather locks are essentially a braking system designed to allow the rocket to safely descend from space.

The NTSB said that the pilots were inadequately trained to handle problems related to the feather lock system. It was also revealed that the system didn’t have a mechanism to prevent the system from prematurely deploying, minimizing the potential for pilot error.

The agency conducted a nine-month investigation into the October 31 crash of the scaled composite SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, Calif. The crash left the Virgin Galactic co-pilot dead and the pilot badly injured.

Federal investigators previously determined that the test co-pilot who was killed, Michael Alsbury, manually unlocked a movable tail section.

“We cannot undo what happened, but it is our hope that through this investigation we will find ways to prevent this from happening again,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said during the hearing. “We are not a regulator and have no power to require changes. We make safety recommendations, which if acted upon can help prevent recurrences.”

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