George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic
CNBC | Michael Sheetz
George Whitesides, former CEO of Virgin Galactic, will be on the company’s next space test, CNBC has learned.
Sir Richard Branson made the announcement at a party on July 11th in Las Cruces, New Mexico – following his own space flight – after thanking Whitesides for running the company for a decade.
“When [Branson] thanked George, he said casually, “and George will direct our next flight,” and people cheered, “Lori Garver, who previously served as NASA’s assistant administrator, told CNBC.
Garver was one of more than 100 company employees and VIPs celebrating Branson’s successful space flight at the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces. Another person who was at the event confirmed Branson’s comments to CNBC.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman said in a statement the company “has not yet confirmed the details of the Unity 23 manifesto”. Whitesides did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Whitesides was Virgin Galactic’s CEO from 2010 to 2020 before moving to the company’s chief space officer last year when the company brought on Michael Colglazier as CEO. He is now the chairman of the Virgin Galactic Space Advisory Board.
Garver says Whitesides will be the only member of the next crew Branson mentioned at the celebration, and three other people are expected to participate in the spaceflight.
The timing of the launch is still unknown, but Virgin Galactic previously announced that it would complete the next two space tests this summer. There was a 50-day gap between Virgin Galactic’s last two spaceflights, so Whitesides could launch in late August or early September if the company takes a similar length of time to prepare.
Virgin Galactic shares were down 4% in trading on Friday to close at $ 29.58.
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity passenger rocket plane carrying Richard Branson and his crew begins its ascent to the edge of space over Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, USA, July 11, 2021 in a still image from a video.
Virgo Galactic | via Reuters
Virgin Galactic has launched four test space flights to date, with the youngest, called Unity 22, carrying its billionaire founder. The company’s management had previously announced that it would conduct two more tests on the VSS Unity spacecraft, the first carrying four more “mission specialists” and the second flying members of the Italian Air Force.
Billionaire Richard Branson and his crew are seen aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity passenger rocket plane before making their untethered ascent to the edge of space above Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, USA, July 11, 2021 , start in a still image from a video.
The company’s VSS Unity spacecraft was designed for six passengers – in addition to two pilots – but the vehicle is now equipped for four passengers, with Virgin Galactic confirming that the Branson spaceflight was a “fully manned” launch.
Virgin Galactic is conducting space tests as the final step in the development of its vehicle, with the goal of starting passenger flights in early 2022. The company has about 600 reservations for tickets for future flights.
Since Branson’s escape, the stock has fallen from highs of $ 55 per share to nearly $ 30 per share. The decline came in part after Virgin Galactic announced the day after Branson’s spaceflight that the company had proposed to sell up to $ 500 million worth of common stock.
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