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News Tip: Crash Raises Concerns About Commercial Space Flight, Former NASA Historian Says

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two crashed on Oct. 31 in the Mojave Desert during a test run, killing one pilot. Quotes: •    “This tragic crash raises serious concerns about the future of commercial, human spaceflight, including the imperatives of time and money that beset all who try to fly humans in space with existing technology.”•    “The biggest hurdle for commercial, human spaceflight has always been the business model.  Development and operation of a launch vehicle is expensive. Shuttle development, for example, cost almost $50 billion (in 2014 dollars).  The private companies that are trying to build launch vehicles for commercial service cannot expect to raise that kind of capital.  The special demands of flying humans safely, reliably and economically compound their challenges -- not just to break even financially but to recover development costs and even generate a profit.”•    “Richard Branson has been famously secretive about the finances of Virgin Galactic, but it is undeniable that his problems have just grown ominously worse. At the minimum, Virgin Galactic will have to pay replacement costs for the lost SpaceShip Two, pay for the accident investigation, pay increased costs for insurance, all of which will further delay the flights that might begin paying off the company’s sunk costs.  This tragic accident casts a long shadow over the prospects for commercial, human spaceflight anytime soon.”•    Bio:Alex Roland is a professor emeritus of history at Duke University and former NASA historian. He has written extensively about the challenges of the U.S. space program. For additional comment, contact Professor Roland at