The National Transportation Safety Board has taken the lead in trying to figure out what doomed Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo yesterday, and the Los Angeles Times notes that it's a milestone of sorts in the new world of commercial space travel. This marks the first time the NTSB has led an inquiry into a manned space launch. Investigators were fanning out across the crash site in the Mojave Desert today gathering evidence in the crash that killed one pilot and seriously injured another; the dead pilot has been identified as Michael Alsbury, 39, the BBC reports. Yesterday's test flight was the first in which the spacecraft used a new type of fuel, one based on a plastic similar to nylon, reports Popular Mechanics. Virgin Galactic previously used a rubber-based fuel.
The space plane also was testing a new motor, though authorities aren't yet suggesting either played a role. "Yesterday, we fell short," said Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, who has arrived in California. "We will now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward together." His company had planned to start ferrying tourists to the edge of space next spring, and the New York Times reports that it's too early to tell what effect yesterday's disaster will have on the timeline. (Among the celebs with reservations is Lady Gaga.)