FAA Is Investigating Branson's Space Flight

Trip veered off course, but Virgin Galactic insists there was no danger
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2021 11:48 AM CDT
FAA Is Investigating Branson's Space Flight
Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic.   (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

Richard Branson famously became the first billionaire to rocket into space, just ahead of Jeff Bezos, but it seems that Branson's flight was a little rockier than first thought. Now the FAA is taking a closer look at what transpired on the Virgin Galactic trip, reports the Wall Street Journal. The New Yorker first reported that a yellow caution light came on during the ascent, warning the pair of pilots their flight path was off. "The pilots basically weren't flying steeply enough," writes Nicholas Schmidle. At another point, a more serious red warning light came on, and sources in the company tell Schmidle that the safest thing to do at that point would have been to abort the flight. The company officially disputes this.

On its return to Earth, the spacecraft deviated from its expected route, flying for one minute and 41 seconds below the altitude the FAA had approved, per CNN. In a statement, Virgin Galactic said that high-altitude winds forced the change and that its pilots acted appropriately. "At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public," the company said. "FAA representatives were present in our control room during the flight and in post-flight debriefs." However, the agency confirmed that it is now investigating exactly what happened. (More Richard Branson stories.)

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