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Virgin Galactic spaceship explodes during test flight

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo under rocket power in 2013. Associated Press/Photo by Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic, File

Virgin Galactic spaceship explodes during test flight

A rocket ship designed to take tourists into space exploded this afternoon during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert.

One person died in the accident and one was seriously injured. The identity of the accident victims has not been released, but the ship is designed to be flown by two pilots.

Witnesses said SpaceShipTwo, owned by Virgin Galactic, exploded after it disconnected from the plane taking it to a higher altitude and fired up its own engines. The rocket is designed to take a short sub-orbital trip before gliding back to earth.

Virgin Galactic, owned by British billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson, plans to give space tourists the thrill of weightlessness for $250,000 a ride. The flights are supposed to take off from a quarter-billion-dollar site in southern New Mexico dubbed Spaceport America. Branson developed the property with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and a hefty investment of taxpayer money.

The company has pushed back the launch date for the space trips several times, citing delays in the rocket ship’s design and development.

Today’s accident was the second this week for the nation’s burgeoning commercial space industry. On Tuesday, a cargo ship headed to the International Space Station exploded six seconds after liftoff from a site in Virginia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leigh Jones

Leigh is features editor for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD News Group. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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