Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson on Saturday cast doubt on the future of his commercial space tourism company.
A day after the pilot of a Virgin Galactic rocket plane died in a crash and another was injured during a test flight, the billionaire vowed to investigate the accident and said he "would like to see the dream living on."
"We would love to finish what we started some years ago," Branson said at a press conference in California. "I think pretty well all our astronauts would love to finish it, and would love to go to space."
The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation on Saturday into what caused the SpaceShipTwo shuttle to crash, seriously injuring one pilot and killing 39-year-old Michael Alsbury. Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic is working to provide suborbital spaceflight to tourists and scientists.
The accident on Friday underscores the dangers facing the nascent space travel industry, led in recent years by Branson and billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
On Tuesday, an unmanned Antares rocket exploded six seconds after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Island launch pad in Virginia. The rocket was ferrying supplies to the International Space Station.
A GIF of the Antares rocket exploding after takeoff.
No one was hurt in Tuesday's explosion, but shares in the company that developed the rocket, Orbital Sciences Corporation, plummeted afterward. The company said it would investigate what went wrong.
"It's a real setback to the idea that lots of people are going to be taking joyrides into the fringes of outer space any time soon," John Logsdon, a retired space policy director at George Washington University, told the Associated Press. "There were a lot of people who believed that the technology to carry people is safely at hand."
On Saturday, Branson appeared somber as he told reporters Virgin Galactic, the space-travel arm of his business empire, would "not push on blindly."
"We owe it to our test pilots to figure out what went wrong," the British mogul said. "If we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on."