Belfast Telegraph

Derek still keen to boldly go into space despite fatal crash

By Linda Stewart

A retired banker aiming to become Northern Ireland's first space explorer says he is undeterred by the Virgin Galactic crash.

The accident killed one of Virgin Galactic's pilots, but Derek Heatly said it hasn't cooled his enthusiasm for travelling to the edge of space on one of Virgin's first commercial space flights.

US investigators say they have recovered the intact fuel tanks and engine of SpaceShipTwo (SS2), suggesting the craft did not explode in the sky.

They say a function designed to help the space plane descend deployed early during the accident. The investigators have warned that it could take up to a year for the full report into the crash to be completed.

Lifelong space enthusiast Mr Heatly, from Groomsport in Co Down, admits the crash in the Mojave Desert has caused family members concern over his planned space flight, but he still hopes to be part of the Richard Branson enterprise.

The retired bank official paid $200,000 (£125,000) to realise his "impossible dream" of viewing the Earth from space.

"We all got an email on Friday lunchtime to say the craft was taxiing down the runway and then we heard nothing more until the news that evening," he said.

"It was like the Challenger (Space Shuttle) all over again.

"But they seem to have found the cause very quickly, although it could take up to a year of investigation."

He was number 157 to sign up and would have been going up 25 flights after the inaugural commercial flight carrying Branson, which was expected to go in March.

"That could have been just over a year from now, but there are going to be a lot of test flights before they can man ride the vehicle."

Fifteen federal US investigators are scouring the site of the fatal crash in the Californian desert after SS2 broke up during a test flight at about 45,000ft.

Pilot Peter Siebold managed to parachute to the ground where he was described as alert but with serious injuries, but co pilot Michael Alsbury was killed.

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