NTSB Corrects Correction — It Was SS2 Co-Pilot Who Moved Lever

NTSB Corrects Correction — It Was SS2 Co-Pilot Who Moved Lever

During a press conference last night (November 3), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Acting Chairman Christopher Hart said that he had misspoken the day before when he said it was the SpaceShipTwo co-pilot who prematurely moved a lever from the locked to the unlocked position.  He said it was the person in the right seat, but NTSB did not know for certain it was the co-pilot.  However, NTSB subsequently tweeted that Hart was mistaken last night, and that it was, indeed, co-pilot Michael Alsbury who moved the lever.  Alsbury died in the accident.  The pilot, Peter Siebold, remains hospitalized.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight on October 31.  The NTSB is leading an investigation to determine the cause.   So far, the investigation has determined only facts and not made any conclusions.  Among the facts is that the co-pilot moved a lever from the locked to the unlocked position to begin activation of a “feathering” system used to slow the spaceplane during its descent.  That lever was supposed to be moved when the vehicle was descending and at Mach 1.4.  Instead, it was moved when the vehicle was ascending and traveling at Mach 1.02.   Activating the feathering system ostensibly required a second step — moving a separate handle — and that never occurred, but it deployed anyway.  The NTSB has not publicly said so, but the idea is that the resulting aerodynamic forces tore the spaceplane apart.

SpacePolicyOnline.com has asked the NTSB to clarify why Hart first said it was the co-pilot, then corrected himself a day later and said NTSB was not certain it was the co-pilot, and then the NTSB (@ntsb) tweeted that it was indeed the co-pilot.  We will update this story if we get a reply.

The two NTSB tweets read:

“To clarify information provided in the Q&A portion of tonight’s media briefing on the #SpaceShipTwo investigation … (cont’d)”

“…the copilot, who was in the right seat, moved the lock/unlock handle into unlock position; he did not survive the accident. #SpaceShipTwo.”

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