SpaceShipTwo Pilot Who Died Moved Braking Lever

Investigators confirmed Monday the copilot who died in the Virgin Galactic spaceship crash was the person who unlocked the brake system too early.

SpaceShipTwo Pilot Who Died Moved Braking Lever
Getty Images / Sandy Huffaker

Federal investigators confirmed Monday night the copilot who died in the Virgin Galactic spaceship crash was the person who unlocked the brake system too early, a move that happened just before the fatal accident.

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Chris Hart says video footage shows 39-year-old Michael Alsbury flipped the switch prematurely.
NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD CHAIRMAN CHRIS HART: "Do we know who moved the lever from lock to unlock? And the answer is the person in the right seat."

Hart is also quoted in BBC saying, "There are several links in the chain to find out what the total cause of this accident is. We have a lot we don't know."

While Hart did not place blame, he did lay out a timeline of events. The NTSB chair said within seconds after Alsbury triggered the mechanism the plane lost video feed and broke apart in the air.

In addition to the video footage, the NTSB say they've located debris from the experimental spacecraft 35 miles from the main crash site. ABC says those are smaller pieces from the plane caught up in wind currents.

Even as an experimental flight, the crash of Virgin Galactic's spaceship along with the explosion of Orbital Science's Antares rocket over the past week have many questioning what this will mean for space tourism.

ABC: "Virgin Galactic is being criticized by some observers who suggest there was pressure to pick up the pace of the program. Seven hundred people have signed up, including some of Hollywood's elite."

Still, a writer for Mashable argues people who are signing up for these trips are aware of the inherent dangers that come along with it.

"Everyone who boards a Virgin Galactic flight, whenever such a thing happens, will be a space pioneer — and they'll assume all the risks that all pioneers in previous centuries did. ... This is exploration, not a safari."

Early Tuesday morning, reports emerged suggesting Virgin Galactic plans to move forward with building a second SpaceShipTwo, which is already more than half finished.

Federal investigators soon plan to question the wounded pilot who survived Friday's crash, to find out more details about the fatal accident. Officials say the final analysis could take more than a year to complete. (Video via NTSB)

This video includes images from Getty Images.