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Investigation Of Deadly Spaceship Crash Begins In Mojave Desert

Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, crashed in Mojave, Calif., on Friday.
Ringo H.W. Chiu

More than a dozen investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are on the ground in California's Mojave Desert to find out why a manned spaceship crashed on Friday.

"This was a test flight, and test flights are typically very well-documented in terms of data," Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the NTSB, told reporters during a press conference today near the crash site. "We may have lots of evidence that will help us with the investigative process."

Hart added that investigators will begin interviewing witnesses who saw the accident that left the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in pieces. One pilot died, identified by the Kern County Sheriff's Office as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury, and another, 43-year-old Peter Siebold, was injured Friday when the ship malfunctioned during a test flight.

At a separate press conference, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said he is committed to uncovering the cause of the crash.

"We owe it to our test pilots to find out exactly what went wrong. And once we find out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on," Branson said, referring to aspirations for commercial space travel.

Branson, who said he had never met the pilot who died, deferred to NTSB officials and did not provide additional details about the accident.

Hart is expected to provide another update at a press conference later today.

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Hansi Lo Wang is a national correspondent for NPR based in New York City. He reports on the people, power and money behind the 2020 census.
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