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Second SpaceShipTwo gets off the ground

Image: VSS Unity
The SpaceShipTwo rocket plane known as VSS Unity and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership are seen from below. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic sent its second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity, into the air for the first time today – tucked securely beneath its WhiteKnightTwo mothership for the entire three-hour-plus flight.

The captive-carry test flight, conducted from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, came nearly two years after the fatal breakup of the first SpaceShipTwo during a flight test in October 2014. One of the test pilots, Michael Alsbury, died in that accident. The other pilot, Pete Siebold, was seriously injured.

It took months to investigate the accident, which was attributed to a variety of design and training shortcomings as well as pilot error. It took much longer to complete construction of VSS Unity, which incorporates design changes based on findings from the investigation.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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