Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn speaks at the Spaceport America runway dedication in October 2010, with Sir Richard Branson looking on. (credit: J. Foust)
Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn will retire from the company next month and be replaced by current CEO George Whitesides, the company announced Thursday. Whitehorn, who has been working for the Virgin Group in various capacities since 1987, has been president of Virgin Galactic since 2004, when the company announced plans to license the SpaceShipOne technology and work with its developer, Scaled Composites, to build SpaceShipTwo. The release notes (although it was not widely reported at the time) that Whitehorn went into a part-time role in 2007 “to pursue other business interests”; he remained as president, though, even when George Whitesides, a former Virgin Galactic advisor who went on to serve as chief of staff to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, returned to Virgin in May to become CEO. Whitesides will take on the roles of CEO and president after Whitehorn’s retirement.
“I feel incredibly privileged to have played my part in developing the most exciting business plan and space technology anywhere in the world today,” Whitehorn said in the statement. “Of course I will miss this fantastic team of people, all of whom I have loved working with, but I know they are in great hands with George and I look forward to seeing them all up there in space in the next few years.”
The release notes that Whitehorn is retiring to pursue other business interests; he already sits on several company and organization boards. The release adds that Whitehorn is also being awarded this month the Royal Aeronautical Society Space Medal.
The full text of the release, not yet posted on the Virgin Galactic web site, is below:
> WILL WHITEHORN TO RETIRE AS PRESIDENT OF VIRGIN GALACTIC. GEORGE WHITESIDES TO TAKE ON COMBINED ROLE OF PRESIDENT AND CEO. > > Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic since the formation of the company in 2004, is to retire from that role in January 2011. George Whitesides, who was appointed as the first full time CEO in May 2010, assumes the title of President and CEO. > > Whitehorn has worked for Virgin Group since 1987 in corporate affairs, brand development and investment related roles. In 2007 he went part time to follow other business interests, but took on responsibility for leading Virgin Galactic through its design and investment phase. The investment round, fully funding the company through launch of commercial operations, was successfully concluded with Aabar Investments. Both the company’s SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo vehicles are now undergoing flight test. > > Commenting on Whitehorn’s departure, George Whitesides said, “I wish Will the very best for the future. We have known each other for six years now and have built both a warm friendship as well as a strong professional relationship. It was his and Sir Richard’s vision that brought Virgin Galactic to the exciting future it now has. I am honored to be taking this great company forward into the new decade to answer the growing markets for commercial, scientific and industrial space development. We now have a flying space flight system, testing on a regular basis above the Mojave desert; we have a beautiful home nearing completion at Spaceport America in New Mexico and most importantly we have over 400 potential astronauts signed up and monies on deposit in excess of $54 million. Will leaves us in strong shape and he will never be far from the project as we move toward commercial operations.” > > Commenting on his departure, Whitehorn added, “I feel incredibly privileged to have played my part in developing the most exciting business plan and space technology anywhere in the world today. Galactic was the result of Sir Richard’s vision and I am delighted that the dream from several years ago is now becoming a reality. I am confident that people will look back on this project as the beginning of the second age of space. Of course I will miss this fantastic team of people, all of whom I have loved working with, but I know they are in great hands with George and I look forward to seeing them all up there in space in the next few years.” > > Will is retiring from Virgin Galactic to concentrate on other business interests. He is currently Chairman of Next Fifteen Communications and Loewy Group Ltd. In addition he sits on the boards of the SECC in Glasgow and ILN Group in London. He is a member of the British Government’s Science and Technology Facilities Council and The Space Leadership Council. In December 2010 he is also being awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society Space Medal for his services to the industry. > > ENDS > > About Virgin Galactic > > Virgin Galactic is on track to be the world’s first commercial spaceline. The new Spaceship (VSS Enterprise) and Mothership (VMS Eve) are both being developed for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic by Mojave-based Scaled Composites. Founded by Burt Rutan, Scaled developed SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 claimed the $10m Ansari X prize as the world’s first privately developed manned spacecraft. Virgin Galactic’s new vehicles share much of the same basic design but are being built to carry six customers on sub-orbital space flights, allowing an out-of-the-seat zero gravity experience and offering astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space. > > The VSS Enterprise test flight program will continue through 2011, prior to commercial operations which will be based at Virgin Galactic’s future headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico.