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Virgin Galactic Tourist Spaceship Crashes On Test Flight In Desert, Killing One Pilot

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One pilot is dead and another suffered a major injury after Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert this morning during a test flight.

The spacecraft, which was slated to begin carrying passengers next year on suborbital flights, crashed shortly before 10:15 a.m. this morning just after it had disengaged from its mothership, named WhiteKnightTwo, at 50,000 feet in altitude. The spacecraft switched to rocket power after disengaging which is when an "in-flight anomaly" occurred and SpaceShipTwo crashed. According to NBC 4, this was the first time the spacecraft had flown under rocket power in nine months.

The crash happened about 25 miles northeast from the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is about 90 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The California Highway Patrol confirmed the casualties, and the Kern County Fire Department sent emergency crews to the crash site. WhiteKnightTwo landed safely.

A statement from Virgin Galactic read, "We will work closely with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident and provide updates as soon as we are able to do so."

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Doug Messier, who blogs about the private aerospace industry, witnessed the crash and tweeted that SpaceShipTwo exploded after switching to its rocket engines:

Virgin Galactic live-tweeted the flight, which took a turn for the tragic as the the incident unfolded:

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SpaceShipTwo was to begin carrying paid customers, who paid up to $250,000 for a ticket, sometime in February or March of next year. Billionaire Richard Branson, who founded the Virgin Group, was set to be one of the passengers on its maiden voyage.

According to Mashable, SpaceShipTwo was designed to fly up to Mach 3.5 and right to the edge of the atmosphere and into the beginning of space. Passengers would then be allowed to unbuckle themselves from their seats and float freely in zero-gravity conditions.

Just earlier this week, a private rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded just after liftoff. Nobody was injured in that accident.