About two dozen passengers have bowed out of the opportunity to be among the first space tourists since the Virgin Galactic Ltd. air crash, which killed a pilot, the company’s chief executive officer said in an interview.

The passengers have had their $250,000 tickets refunded, marking the first time any of the 800 potential space travelers have pulled out of the project, George Whitesides said in an interview published in the Daily Telegraph today.

The Oct. 31 crash above the Mojave Desert in California has dented Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s ambitions to send paying passengers into space. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury died in the accident while pilot Peter Siebold is still in hospital.

“A few people have asked for a refund,” Whitesides told the Telegraph. “I don’t think that’s surprising and I think what is relevant is that the vast majority have said ‘don’t give up, keep going, we’re with you’.”

A new model of the company’s SpaceShipTwo that crashed is expected to start test flights within six months, Whitesides said.

“I think with all of these kinds of events, the first reaction is a kind of disbelief before reality sets in quite quickly,” Whitesides said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy Hodges in London at jhodges17@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net.

Photo Credit: The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 (VSS Enterprise) glides toward Earth in October 10, 2010. Handout