Longtime flight engineer and test pilot Michael Alsbury was killed Friday when a Virgin Galactic spaceship exploded and broke apart midflight above California’s Mojave Desert.
Alsbury, 39, was an experienced flier who co-piloted the same craft when it first broke the sound barrier last year. He worked for Scaled Composites — which built and operates SpaceShipTwo — for more than a decade, according to his biography.
Another pilot aboard the ship, Peter Siebold, parachuted to safety but was also seriously injured, authorities said. He was to undergo surgery Saturday afternoon, according to the Kern County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office.
Alsbury held the titles of project engineer and test pilot, and was also sitting in the co-pilot’s seat when the craft was first dropped in 2010 from its carrier aircraft several miles above the Earth for an unpowered glide test. According to test logs, Alsbury flew primarily as the craft’s co-pilot, logging at least seven trips from 2010 to early 2014.
His identity was confirmed to the Los Angeles Times by the Kern County (Calif.) Coroner’s Office and to the Associated Press by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood. The Daily Mail reported that Alsbury was a married father of two. Records show he lived in Tehachapi, Calif., near the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the test flights were conducted.
Saturday morning, two men intercepted reporters in front of Alsbury’s modest two-story house to say that the family is grieving and had no comment at this time. One neighbor who declined to identify himself said he believed the family had lived in the neighborhood about two years and had young children.
A coworker, Clint Nichols, described Alsbury as “the great pilot, a great engineer.”
Alsbury was one of only a small handful of men who had ever flown the spaceship and its companion aircraft.
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SOURCE: USA Today