30 March 2021

Meet Dee Chester, Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut and one of the first people to see SpaceShip III Imagine

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What do you use to tow a vehicle that can travel three times faster than the speed of sound into space and then glide gracefully back down to Earth?

That was the question facing Virgin Galactic engineers as they prepared to rollout SpaceShip III Imagine. Step forward Future Astronaut, Dee Chester, and her Astronaut Edition Range Rover.

Retired science teacher, Dee, has been passionate about space ever since she saw Alan Shepard fly into space in 1961. She applied to become an Astronaut with NASA twice during her career and has a space collection of over 12,000 pieces – including a tire from the Space Shuttle.

As soon as she heard about Virgin Galactic she knew she wanted to become a Future Astronaut and joined the 600 strong community of people signed up to fly into space.

In this blog, she describes what it was like to be one of the first people in the world to see SpaceShip III Imagine in all its glory.

What was your reaction when you saw SpaceShip III Imagine for the first time?

The whole experience was absolutely spectacular and brought me to tears.

I wasn’t prepared for the chrome coloring and the blue graphics. I walked into the FAITH hangar, and as I turned the corner, I caught a glimpse of the spaceship’s nose. It stopped me in my tracks, and I said – “it’s chrome!”

Then, I had a very emotional moment. She’s just beautiful, and the graphics shine so brightly off the booms. It wouldn’t surprise me if people on the flight line can see this spaceship even when it’s space.

What do you think of the name, SpaceShip III Imagine?

I think it fits perfectly. If you can imagine it, then you can dream it, and then, hopefully, you find a way to turn that dream into a reality. I’m a huge believer that what makes life special is enjoying the imagination of your dreams coming true.

That matches perfectly with my Virgin Galactic journey right now, especially with all of the incredible experiences I’ve had as a member of the Future Astronaut community.

SpaceShip III Imagine is a wonderfully positive name that makes me excited for the future.

How does it feel knowing your Range Rover has towed SpaceShip III Imagine, a vehicle which will one day be taking people on a lifechanging trip to space?

It’s surreal, and the whole thing was a total honor. I felt like a proud parent watching my Astronaut Edition tow the future of the Virgin Galactic fleet out of the hangar. All of the images from the day will be framed and hanging on the wall of fame in my house, that’s for sure!

Why did you want an Astronaut Edition Range Rover?

It’s so unique. You can only have one if you belong to this very special club of Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts. It’s funny, when I arrived at the FAITH hanger, I got out of the car and a bunch of the Virgin Galactic engineers came running over to me shouting, “can we see the car?” I was like, “sure, but I want to see the spaceship!”

My favorite features on the Range Rover are the puddle lamps -  when you open the car door at night, a graphic of SpaceShipTwo is beamed onto the pavement.

Another feature I love is that the team have taken part of the front landing skid from VSS Unity’s first spaceflight, and repurposed it to form two discs within the cup holders. One of these references a quote from Richard ‘See you up there’ -and the other features the details of the space flight. The second one will be swapped out once I’ve flown with the skid from my own spaceflight and engraved with the key stats. How cool is that!

The color is gorgeous too, and unique to the Astronaut Edition. It was designed to mirror the depth and intensity of the night sky and it’s a stunning rich blue.

What’s it like being a member of the Future Astronaut Community?

You get to meet wonderful people. Not just other Future Astronauts, but the people behind the Company that are on a mission to make our dreams come true -  the engineers and space wrenches who are building spaceships.

On the day of the SpaceShip III shoot, I was in the break room and Jameel Janjua, one of the Virgin Galactic Pilots, was there. He came over and he told me about what it’s like to be preparing to fly these incredible spaceships.

I’ve never met a grumpy Virgin Galactic employee – they are all wonderful people.

What’s been your favorite Future Astronaut event?

That’s like asking who your favorite child is! Watching the second spaceflight from the flight line in Mojave was special, but of course, getting a behind the scenes look at SpaceShip III and the unveil of the spacesuits stand out for me too.

What part of your spaceflight are you most looking forward to?

I will cram so much into the time I have in space. I want to put my nose print on every window and take in the beauty of looking at Earth with no borders – I want to be a big sponge and suck it all in.

I’d also like to take a moment to say thank you to everyone at Virgin Galactic for building another gorgeous spaceship, and for making my dreams come true.

GEORGE WHITESIDES

GEORGE WHITESIDES

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD CHAIR

George T. Whitesides is the Chair of the Space Advisory Board, where he is responsible for bringing together aerospace leaders to advise the Virgin Galactic senior management team on the journey towards regular commercial spaceflight, developing the next generation vehicles and exploring new opportunities. Previously, George served as the Chief Space Officer of Virgin Galactic, spearheading the development of future technologies, including high speed, point-to-point travel and orbital flight, after stepping down as CEO in 2020.

George joined Virgin Galactic in 2010 as Chief Executive Officer. During George’s 10 years with the Company, he built the company from 30 people to a workforce of over 900, successfully guiding Virgin Galactic through its human space flight R&D and flight test program, culminating in two space flights. These historic flights saw the first humans launched into space from US soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, as well as the first woman to fly on a commercial space vehicle. George led the transition of operations from Mojave, California to Spaceport America, New Mexico, and oversaw the company’s successful public listing making it a multi-billion dollar company and creating the world’s first publicly traded human spaceflight venture.

Prior to Virgin Galactic, George served as Chief of Staff for NASA. Upon departure from the American space agency, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award the agency confers.

George’s volunteer service includes Caltech’s Space Innovation Council, Princeton University’s Advisory Council for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and the Antelope Valley Economic Development & Growth Enterprise. He is a fellow of the UK Royal Aeronautical Society and an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He previously served as Vice Chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, chair of the Reusable Launch Vehicle Working Group for the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, a member of the Board of Directors of Virgin Galactic, a member of the Board of Trustees of Princeton University, co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Space Technologies, and the Board of Virgin Unite USA. George has testified on American space policy before the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy. An honors graduate of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, George later earned a master’s degree in geographic information systems and remote sensing from the University of Cambridge, and a Fulbright Scholarship to Tunisia. George is a licensed private pilot and certified parabolic flight coach.

He resides in California with his wife Loretta and two children.

CHRIS HADFIELD

CHRIS HADFIELD

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER

Colonel Chris Hadfield is a heavily decorated astronaut, engineer, and test pilot who has commanded the International Space Station. Formerly NASA’s Director of Operations in Russia and veteran of three spaceflights, Hadfield’s many awards include the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Cross and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. Hadfield is a three-time NYT bestselling author, a renowned musician, an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, chair of the board of the Open Lunar Foundation, and host of several internationally acclaimed television series. In addition, Hadfield leads the space stream at the Creative Destruction Lab, one of the world’s top tech incubators.

DR SANDRA MAGNUS

DR SANDRA MAGNUS

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER

Dr. Sandra H. “Sandy” Magnus is the Principal at AstroPlanetview, LLC. Most recently she served as the Deputy Director of Engineering in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for the Undersecretary of Research and Engineering. In that role she served as the “Chief Engineer” for the Department of Defense establishing engineering policy, propagating best practices and working to connect the engineering community across the department.

Dr. Magnus is the former Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Prior to leading AIAA, she was a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps for 16 years. During her time at NASA she flew in space on the STS-112 shuttle mission in 2002, and on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011. In addition, she flew to the International Space Station on STS-126 in November 2008, served as flight engineer and science officer on Expedition 18, and returned home on STS-119 after four and a half months on board.

Following her assignment on Station, she served at NASA Headquarters in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Her last duty at NASA, after STS-135, was as the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office.

While at NASA, Dr. Magnus worked extensively with the international community, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), as well as with Brazil on facility-type payloads. She also spent time in Russia developing and integrating operational products and procedures for the International Space Station.

Before joining NASA, Dr. Magnus worked for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company as a stealth engineer. While at McDonnell Douglas, she worked on internal R&D and on the Navy’s A-12 Attack Aircraft program.

Dr. Magnus has received numerous awards, including the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the 40 at 40 Award (given to former collegiate women athletes to recognize the impact of Title IX).

DAVID A. WHELAN

DAVID A. WHELAN

SPACE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER

Dr. David A. Whelan is the SVP Chief-Scientist of Cubic Corporation. Dr. Whelan retired from Boeing in 2017, as the Vice President, Engineering (BDS) and Board of Directors for HRL Laboratories. Whelan served as Director of the Tactical Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and began his career at Northrop as designer of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. Whelan is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Physical Society and IEEE. He earned his Ph.D. Physics from UCLA; He holds over 75 US patents.