The first celebrity who had paid to be among the inaugural passengers on Virgin Galactic’s trip into space has pulled out after a pilot died in a test flight last week.
The UK’s Princess Beatrice, who sixth in line to the British throne and is a friend of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, had paid $250,000 to be on one of the maiden flights next year.
But the Daily Mail said a Buckingham Palace source told the newspaper she no longer wanted to be a part of the venture, which is also backed by Abu Dhabi government investment firm Aabar Investments, with a 37 percent stake in Virgin Galactic.
“Beatrice was excited by the idea of space tourism, but there is no way she will be going on one of the flights, if they are ever allowed to take place,” the source told the Daily Mail.
Other celebrities who also have paid to be on one of the first flights, including Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Leonardo DiCaprio, are yet to comment on the fatal accident on Friday.
Co-pilot Michael Alsbury, 39, died in the crash, while a second pilot, Peter Siebold, 43, remains in hospital after parachuting from the space plane.
US crash investigators are reportedly looking into whether pilot error was a factor in the accident. The Guardian reported that the investigation also would scrutinise the design of the space plane and look at training issues, pressures to continue testing and the safety culture at Virgin Galactic.
Sir Richard has been repeatedly criticised for missing announced timeframes to launch SpaceShipTwo.
He told Arabian Business in April that it would “definitely” go ahead next year, with himself and his son Sam on board.
The British businessman has moved into public relations overload since the crash, in a bid to downplay negative publicity, insisting space tourism still will be achieved in the near future – and by Virgin Galactic.
On Monday, Branson hit out at detractors and the media. In particular he said “self-proclaimed experts” were falsely claiming an explosion caused the crash, while some media had been sensationalist.
"The fuel tanks and the engine were intact, showing there was no explosion, despite a lot of self-proclaimed experts saying that was the cause," Branson said, according to ABC News in Australia.
"I've never seen such irresponsible innuendo and damaging innuendo."
He reportedly said sensationalist press reports about the crash had been "incredibly hurtful", adding that some of the journalists "should hang their heads in shame".
"We will not fly members of the public unless we can fly myself and family members," he said.
"I'm absolutely convinced that Virgin Galactic has a great future once the NTSB [National Transport Safety Board] has made clear exactly what happened."
NTSB investigators have found most of the wreckage needed to complete their assessment, while cameras in the cockpit and elsewhere also will be assessed.
They expect to interview Siebold this week.For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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