Virgin Galactic Crash: What's Next for Space Tourism?

As the investigation into the Virgin Galactic crash that killed one test pilot and injured another focuses on human performance, opinion is split on what the accident will mean for space tourism. 

The Christian Science Monitor reports that investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have created a "human performance group" to investigate the early deployment of the spacecraft's feathering system, which may have caused the craft to break up.

The feathering maneuver involved the pilot moving a lever to unlock the tail booms, and then moving a handle to lower the booms. According to telemetry data and cockpit video, the pilot moved the lever to unlock the booms while the craft was traveling at around Mach 1, at a lower target speed and altitude than when the booms would normally be unlocked. Video and telemetry data ceased shortly after feathering occurred. 

Opinion remains split on how the accident will affect the future of space tourism. 

"This is going to mean a lot more regulation," Michael Listner of the Space Law and Policy Solutions space law firm told National Geographic. "And there is the question of whether the industry will even survive."

National Geographic rounded up a series of Twitter comments from users discussing their reaction to the crash, with some backing off from the idea of spaceflight, and others indicating that they are still interested. 

In a contrasting opinion, Vox pointed to the possibility that space tourism could reduce its risk to the point where it is on par with other forms of extreme tourism, such as climbing Mount Everest.

The most successful rockets have a failure rate of more than 5 percent, and the Virgin Galactic crash, which came after 23 powered test flights, puts its system in that range, Vox said. 

At the same time, "The kind of people that sign up for this are adventure seekers," Marco Caceres, a space analyst with the Teal Group, told Vox. "They thrive on risk. Many of them won't be daunted by this."

Howard McCurdy, a professor at American University, told Vox that space tourism could be viable at an accident rate of 1 percent, which is in live with other extreme activities, such as climbing Mount Everest and flying on high-altitude X-planes. 

The NTSB investigation may take up to 12 months to complete its analysis. 

Keep visiting for further updates to this developing story. 

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