In its first investigation of a manned space launch, the National Transportation Safety Board says pilot error may have caused the deadly crash of SpaceShipTwo on Friday. The agency's acting chairman told reporters last night that a lever on the doomed spacecraft was moved to the unlock position sooner than it should have been, CNN reports. He explained that the experimental spacecraft disintegrated seconds after a "feathering" system designed to slow descent was deployed at the wrong speed, but he stressed that finding the cause of the crash will take months and that issues including possible mechanical and design failures or "pressure to continue testing" are also being looked at, the AP reports.
One test pilot was killed in the crash. The other suffered a shoulder injury, and the company that designed the craft for Virgin Galactic says he is now "alert and talking with his family and doctors," reports the Los Angeles Times. The space tourism firm has been accused of excessive risk-taking, but its chief executive tells the Financial Times that those claims are a difference of professional opinion and that the firm listens carefully to the "several hundred engineers that we have on staff." He says a second spaceship under construction "is getting close to readiness" and could be ready to fly by the time the NTSB probe is complete. (Read more SpaceShipTwo stories.)