Crib Sheet: George T. Whitesides, Top Dog (in Space) at Virgin Galactic

George T. Whitesides


Don’t call him Laika, but George T. Whitesides is a dawg for space. He’s just hopped off Planet NASA, where he was Chief of Staff to agency Great Dane Charlie Bolden, and is now–Mush!–Lead Husky at Virgin Galactic [Editor’s note: Pack it Rin-Tin-Tin.] “I’m looking forward to taking the company from where it is now to commercial operations,” Whitesides said in a statement. “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.”

Evidently they edited out the bit that went “Wheeee! ZOMIGOD, where’s my Tauntaun sleeping bag and my Luke Skywalker PJs? I’m going into spaaaaaace!” And I’m convinced that, statement done, he danced round the floor of his bedroom, yeah, the one with the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, and the telescope pointing out of the window toward the moon, before collapsing on the floor in a big puddle of excited-puppy goo.

A former executive director of the National Space Society, Astronomers Without Borders, George is one big hunk of geek. Big of heart and big of brain–Princeton, King’s College, Cambridge, a Fulbright Scholar in Tunisia–he is married to another cosmo-geek, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, whom I’m assuming he met at Space Camp. Cute does not even describe the half of it.

The two of them are planning on honeymooning in space, having bought full-price tickets for a Virgin Galactic flight back in 2007–wonder if he can invoke a staff discount now? But, in a plea to the happy couple–and I know this is a bit unorthodox, but could you think about bringing the rest of George’s family with you, please? Dad, George M. Whitesides is a professor of chemistry at Harvard with the highest Hirsch index of any living scientist, and brother Ben is lead singer of math rock group (see? Geeks one and all) The Joggers. What we really want is live music shenanigans and chemistry experiments in zero gravity.

If Whitesides Jr. gets his way, however, it’s going to be more than just Bunsen burners and wah-wah pedals. The man is a walking, talking advocate for a real-life Battlestar Galactica–albeit, without the toasters and the, er, battles. Forget his ability at organizing parties in space, we could be looking at George being the leader of the Space Party, a One Earthling, One Alien, Two Votes kinda thang. Here’s part of the Space Party’s manifesto:


The Aim: “People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.”

The History: “A thousand years in the future, our era will be remembered most for the birth of spaceflight, the moment in human history when we developed the ability to travel to space.”

Environmental policy: “NASA is the world’s foremost climate science agency. It’s world-class engineering capabilities could help design solutions for climate change on a national and global scale.

Energy policy: Think SSP, or Space Solar Power. All you need know about this complex technology is that the word “rectenna,” short for “rectifying antenna,” will become common parlance. E.T.’s Speak and Spell-based communicator has nothing on this.

Defense policy: “The only way to eliminate the threat of asteroids is to detect and divert them. The asteroids could be… mined for their materials, including platinum-group metals, water ice and iron, which could be used to make steel. This would defuse the threat, make a lot of people extremely rich, and keep an entire world safe.”

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.