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Raumfahrt - Fallen Virgin Galactic test pilot remembered at Space Mirror Memorial ceremony

27.01.2020

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Pilot Mike Alsbury was killed in the Virgin SpaceShipTwo crash in Mojave Desert. Mike Alsbury, a project engineer and pilot, gestures as he explains a potential midair collision scenario April 3, 2003 in Mojave, Calif.
David McNew, Getty Images

More than five years after his death in a space plane crash, Michael Alsbury's illuminated name now glows on the 43-by-50-foot black granite Space Mirror Memorial honoring fallen astronauts.

"Michael Alsbury's life was not wasted. In fact, his accomplishments will continue to impact every human being on the face of this earth," Mick Ukleja, who chairs the Astronauts Memorial Foundation board of advisers, told a somber crowd Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Alsbury died Oct. 31, 2014, while co-piloting Virgin Galactic's experimental SpaceShipTwo, which engineers hoped could take space tourists on suborbital trips. Alsbury was a test pilot for Scaled Composites, the company that designed and built the rocket-powered space plane.

Thirteen seconds after SpaceShipTwo released from the belly of its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, the plane broke apart and crashed in California's Mojave desert. Alsbury was 39.

The Space Mirror Memorial now bears 25 names, including the crews of Apollo I in 1967, space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and shuttle Columbia in 2003.

"Every one of them is an explorer. And that's the way they'll be remembered," Eileen Collins, NASA's first female shuttle pilot and commander, told the crowd. Her crew was initially scheduled to launch five weeks after the Columbia disaster.

"But the point I want to make, the attitude of pilots and astronauts is not one of taking a crazy risk. It's an attitude of, 'I'm part of something that's bigger than me,' " Collins said.

"And that is something that's worth taking risks for — calculated risks," she said.

Alsbury's widow, Michelle Saling, and father, Richard Alsbury, placed a wreath at the Space Mirror Memorial beneath his name while his two children and other relatives watched. Attendees placed colorful flowers along a white metal fence surrounding the monument, and an F-104 Starfighter performed a flyover.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, which oversees the mirror, created a special committee to consider adding Alsbury as the first name from a private spaceflight company. Collins chaired the committee, and the foundation announced its decision in July.

The names of fallen astronauts are seen on the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex during NASA's Day of Remembrance on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.
Emre Kelly / FLORIDA TODAY
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Taber MacCallum, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, hailed Alsbury as "a hero of our generation: a commercial astronaut test pilot."

The National Transportation Safety Board later cited pilot error and insufficient training in the fatal SpaceShipTwo crash, among other factors.

"Routine, safe spaceflight is unbelievably challenging — but so, too, was routine, safe air travel not so long ago," MacCallum told the crowd. 

"Human spaceflight is the hardest of the hard. A complex problem that requires innovation at every level of the enterprise to succeed," MacCallum said.

"And when the spacecraft is built and all the ground testing is done, there comes the day with every human flight vehicle that we start piloted flights," he said.

"And in walk the test pilots," he said.

In December 2018, Virgin Galactic's new SpaceShipTwo recorded a successful suborbital flight in California.

"Forger (Stucky) and I flew the spaceship to over 51 miles high over the Mohave," co-pilot C.J. Sturckow said.

"And I thought how Mike's work was vindicated," Sturckow said.

Quelle: Florida Today

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