CEO, Virgin Galactic

George Whitesides is the CEO and President of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded by Sir Richard Branson. With Scaled Composites, the company has developed the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles, based on the X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne. In his role, Whitesides is responsible for guiding all aspects of the company to commercial operation at Spaceport America in New Mexico. This includes oversight of The Spaceship Company, a joint venture with Scaled to manufacture additional vehicle sets. The company currently has deposits from over 455 individuals for its spaceflight experience.
Prior to Virgin Galactic, Whitesides served as Chief of Staff for NASA, where he provided policy and staff support to the agency’s Administrator. Upon departure from the agency he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award the agency confers.

Prior to his role at NASA, Whitesides served as Executive Director of the National Space Society (NSS). NSS is a space policy and advocacy group that was founded by Apollo program leader Wernher von Braun and the journalist Hugh Downs.

Whitesides currently serves on the board of Virgin Unite USA, the philanthropic organization of Virgin Group; the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Space Security; and the advisory board of the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation. He is a fellow of the UK’s Royal Aeronautical Society.

He has previously served as Chairman of the Reusable Launch Vehicle Working Group for the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee. He served for a limited period as a member of the National Research Council Space Studies Board's Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the US Civil Space Program. He served for four years on the Board of Trustees of Princeton University.

Whitesides began his career at Orbital Sciences Corporation as executive intern and subsequently special assistant to the president. He served as Vice President of Marketing for Zero Gravity Corporation, a private space-tourism company, during its launch period, and Director of Marketing for Blastoff Corporation, a space-experience company funded by film and technology leaders.

With his wife Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, Whitesides co-founded Yuri's Night, an annual global celebration of space that has been celebrated in over 50 countries. Mr. Whitesides co-founded Permission to Dream, a global space education program that donated telescopes to underprivileged children.

Whitesides has testified on American space policy before the United States Senate and the President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy. Whitesides maintains an active speaking and media schedule. Whitesides was selected by Space News as one of twelve 'People to Watch.’

Mr. Whitesides received his undergraduate degree in public and international affairs with honors from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, a master’s degree in geographic information systems and remote sensing from the University of Cambridge in England, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Tunisia. Whitesides is a licensed private pilot and certified parabolic flight coach.

Speaker years: 
2012