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.