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NASA's space shuttle operations chief heading to Virgin

Space shuttle Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses speaks about a hydrogen leak in Cape Canaveral
Space shuttle Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses speaks about a hydrogen leak in Cape Canaveral

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Deputy space shuttle program manager and former flight director Mike Moses is leaving NASA to oversee operations for Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceflight company owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group, the company said on Tuesday.

Moses oversaw space shuttle operations during the final three years of the program, which ended this summer.

NASA is working on a heavy-lift rocket and capsule to fly astronauts to the moon, asteroids, Mars and other destinations beyond the International Space Station's 225-mile-high orbit.

"I'm more than onboard with NASA's plan," Moses told Reuters. "It's just that the operations of that system were still eight to 10 years away. I couldn't just push paper around and write requirements for the next 10 years so I'm going to take another shot at it here in the commercial sector."

As Virgin Galactic's vice president of operations, Moses will set up and oversee the company's commercial suborbital spaceflight services. Virgin's first ship, called SpaceShipTwo, is undergoing flight tests at manufacturer Scaled Composites' Mojave, California, base. A trial run beyond the atmosphere is expected next year.

About 450 people have made reservations for the $200,000 ride, a five-minute suborbital hop that will expose passengers to weightlessness and a view of the planet that so far only about 500 people have had.

"If this works and we get commercial, regular, routine spaceflight, even if it's suborbital operations, that expands the number of people who are involved in the space program, the number of people who get to go up in orbit and see the Earth from above and that should hopefully seed the whole culture of the country and world to start changing our attitudes toward how important space is," Moses said.

Moses, 43, will be relocating from Houston to Mojave, then to Virgin Galactic's commercial space base near Las Cruces, N.M, where a spaceport is under construction.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz)

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