Virgin Galactic Names First CEO

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To find its first chief executive, Virgin Galactic went straight to that other space agency -- the one known as NASA -- to find George Whitesides, who was working there as chief of staff. Will Whitehorn, Virgin Galactic's longtime president, said Whitesides will guide the company as it transitions from a work-in-progress to a fully fledged operating business. "George brings with him a wealth of experience in space business, policy and regulation. He joins Virgin Galactic at a momentous moment in the development of the company," said Whitehorn. "Test flying of the first SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise) has commenced and our future home at Spaceport America in New Mexico is at an advanced stage of construction." Virgin Galactic has developed the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo air-launched space system over the past six years, using technology created by Scaled Composites based on the Burt Rutan-designed spacecraft that won the X Prize in 2004.

Whitesides was appointed to his position at NASA after serving on President Barack Obama's NASA transition team. Previously, he served as the executive director of the National Space Society, and also worked for Orbital Sciences Corporation, Blastoff Corporation and the Zero Gravity Corporation. He is a certified private pilot and parabolic flight coach, as well as a graduate of Cambridge and Princeton Universities and a former Fulbright Scholar. "I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead this historic business, which will open the experience of space travel to people around the world," Whitesides said. "There is much to achieve at Virgin Galactic over the coming years as the company moves from the extensive test-flying program and FAA licensing process into commercial operation of frequent spaceflights from our new home at Spaceport America in New Mexico." The company has accepted over $65 million worth of reservations from 335 future astronauts and is holding deposits of over $45 million, Whitehorn said. SpaceShipTwo is capable of carrying eight people into space. WhiteKnightTwo visited EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh last summer, and it's expected that it will fly in again this year with SpaceShipTwo, which has been in flight testing since December.