19 June 2020

Virgin Galactic and Partners Announce Aerospace Leadership Program for Black Scholars


Virgin Galactic and partners today announced a new scholarship, mentoring and fellowship program for Black scholars pursuing STEM education with a focus on aerospace. To kick start the program, Virgin Galactic is committing $100,000, which will be augmented by additional donations and support.

The new effort will be supported by a growing list of organizations, including Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, Virgin Orbit and Virgin Hyperloop.  In addition, the program will connect with and take lessons from the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut customer community, as well as the Brooke Owens Fellowship program.  It builds on the success of previous and current Galactic Unite scholarship programs and initiatives that have focused on opening career opportunities within the industry to scholars.

The new program is designed to support the next generation of Black leaders, who will power the rapidly-developing aerospace industry and help solve the global challenges in years to come.  As a part of this program, selected students will receive scholarship support, mentoring, summer fellowships, and job opportunities upon graduation.  The aspiration is to support Black scholars through the academic pipeline to a successful early career placement opportunity.

Galactic Unite is Virgin Galactic’s long-standing outreach initiative that is a collaboration between company staff, the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut community, and Virgin Unite foundation.  In 2012, Galactic Unite launched its first program, a perpetual scholarship created in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation’s largest minority education organization, to support women pursuing STEM careers.

This was followed by a second program launched in South Africa, designed to support historically disadvantaged Black South African students.  This program funded scholars for a three-year term, each receiving the largest annual awards in our scholarship program. The first recipient Rofhiwa Josephine Mukhondo said: “This scholarship gave me the chance to experience a fantastic academic environment and a chance to explore unique new opportunities. I still get goosebumps when I think of how big and great this scholarship program is, and then I have to pinch myself to make sure this is real!”

Thanks to the generous donations of Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts, Galactic scholarship programs have already awarded over $1 million to 90 students all over the world.  Presently, half of the scholarship recipients are women, and currently, 43% of all recipients represent ethnic minorities, including Black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander.  Galactic Unite scholarship recipients are employed across our Virgin space companies and give back to the program through support and mentorship to STEM students.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said: “I’m incredibly proud of our entire team involved in conceiving this remarkable program.  At Virgin Galactic, part of our mission is to inspire the next generation of engineers, pilots and rocket scientists to pursue careers in the space industry, and we are pleased to see that so many future experts have benefited from our existing Galactic Unite programs.  Through our Galactic Unite initiative, we’ve continued to award scholarships to students throughout the pandemic, and expanding our work to support more Black American STEM scholars is a testament to our team’s ambition to make space truly accessible for all.”

The Galactic Unite outreach initiative is designed to invest in and support future generations, who will power the rapidly developing aerospace industry and solve global challenges in years to come. If you are interested in learning more about the program plans, or becoming a partner to the effort, please contact Galactic.Unite@virgingalactic.com.





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.




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 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).




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.