NBC says it’s “gathering information on the situatuon” after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft crashed today in the Mojave Desert, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. The fatal accident occurred one year after NBC announced it had bought the space travel reality series Burnett had been pitching with British mogul Richard Branson. titled Space Race, in which everyday people would compete for a trip into space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. The training of the contestants would be done at Virgin Galactic’s home in Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic issued a statement saying the “vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo.” That vehicle was carried aloft by a jet, White Knight 2; from which, in practice, it would be launched into sub-orbit. White Knight 2, has landed safely, Virgin Galactic said today.
SpaceShipTwo exploded after it was released from the jet, Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, told Associated Press. The accident occurred at 50,000 feet at around 10 AM PT, during what has been described as the first major test for SpaceShipTwo, according to various reports.
In a news conference today, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told reporters, “Space is hard, and today was a tough day.”
The Federal Aviation Association is investigating the accident.
“The term ‘trip of a lifetime’ has for once been delivered on!,” NBC’s alternative chief Paul Telegdy. said in October of ’13 when NBC announced its space travel realtiy series; Burnett reflected on the long journey to Space Race: “For the past 10 years I have relentlessly pursued my dream of using a TV show to give an everyday person the chance to experience the black sky of space and look down upon mother Earth,” he said, explaining the genesis for the series came from a visit he made last year to the New Mexico facility. “I am thrilled to be part of a series that will give the everyday person a chance to see space and that NBC has come on board too so that viewers at home will have a first class seat,” Burnett said a year ago.
One morning later, NBC’s Today show announced a three-hour live broadcast covering the first commercial space flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, with first passengers: Branson and his two children, Holly and Sam. No date was announced. The Today show news event/publicity stunt announced that morning would be carried across NBCUniversal brands and platforms, including CNBC, MSNBC, NBCNews.com, Syfy, The Weather Channel. The coverage would include a primetime special airing on NBC the night before launch, as well as the three-hour live event on Today, hosted by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie.
Space Race marked a reunion of NBC and Burnett in the space travel reality TV genre. Thirteen years ago, NBC outbid several other networks for Burnett’s Destination: Mir, which was later scrapped when the Russian space station that was to be the series’ destination was brought down. Burnett later tried again with Destination: Space, which also didn’t get off the ground — also a partnership with the Russian space program, and using Soyuz rockets.