On April 5th, Mark Stucky was set to pilot SpaceShipTwo, a sixty-foot-long craft that is owned by Virgin Galactic, a part of the Virgin Group. Stucky had piloted SpaceShipTwo on two dozen previous flights before April, including three of the four times that it had fired its rocket booster.
For the fourth such flight, however, the one held on Oct. 31, 2014, Stucky watched from mission control as the craft crashed into the desert, killing his best friend.
This April marked the fifth rocket-powered flight, on a new iteration of the spaceship. Virgin Galactic, which is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, the British billionaire, is one of three startups that are racing to build and test manned rockets. It wants to take half a dozen passengers on a “suborbital” flight.
As lead test pilot, Stucky was expected to navigate unexplored aerodynamic realms, writes The New Yorker, to give engineers the ability to define the spaceship’s capabilities and limits.
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