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Test Flight Crash Fails To Deter Space Tourists


Let's follow up now on the crash of an experimental spaceship. Last week's crash came in California during a test flight. It was a big setback for hundreds of hopeful space tourists. But many are still holding onto their tickets. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo isn't a spaceship in the conventional sense. It's designed to rocket just above the atmosphere then float back to Earth. That was enough to get hundreds to sign up.


BRUMFIEL: This 2009 advertisement shows ticketholders promoting the service.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The $200,000 is a small price to pay. And it's fully refundable if I don't want to be part of it. But certainly from the safety aspects that I've seen, the approach has been perfect.

BRUMFIEL: That was then. But last week, SpaceShipTwo broke apart over the Mojave Desert. The pilot was injured and the co-pilot died. And this week, a few ticketholders have been asking for refunds, among them the U.K.'s Princess Beatrice, according to media reports.

JIM CLASH: That doesn't surprise me. I think there's a group actually that bought the tickets because they're fashionable.

BRUMFIEL: Jim Clash is an adventure journalist and a ticketholder.

CLASH: I'm passenger number 610.

BRUMFIEL: He says he thinks those asking for refunds are in the minority. And so far he's right. Virgin Galactic says they've only gotten around 20 requests for refunds. Clash is in his 50s, and like a lot of baby boomers, space has been on his bucket list for a long time.

CLASH: We saw John Glenn orbit the Earth. We saw Neil and Buzz walk on the moon. And we all thought someday we'd get to go to space because we were kids at the time.

BRUMFIEL: For his generation space is an adventure, and it's risky. The accident doesn't faze him.

CLASH: We're in a testing phase, and things happen. You've got to get this thing ready for passengers. I'm willing to wait as long as it takes.

BRUMFIEL: That's good because the investigation alone may take a year. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.

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