Ex-Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides will fly on next spaceflight test says Branson after FAA snubs Bezos

RICHARD Branson said former Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides will fly on the company's next space flight after the FAA rejected Jeff Bezos' request.

Branson made the announcement at a party on July 11 just after he returned from his own space flight.

"When [Branson] thanked George, he offhand, very casually, said ‘and George will be leading our next flight,’ and people cheered," said Lori Garver, who was in attendance at the party where Branson thanked Whitesides for leading the company for a decade.

The former deputy administrator of NASA, Garver told CNBC that over 100 employees of the company and friends were celebrating Branson's successful flight and return at the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces in New Mexico.

Although Garver and other company employees at the meeting corroborated Whitesides as the next flight leader, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson said the company has "not confirmed the details for the Unity 23 manifest at this time."

Whitesides previously served as Virgin Galactic's CEO from 2010 to 2020 before taking on the company's chief space officer role last year.

He also chairs the company's space advisory board.

Whitesides was the only person Branson mentioned at the party, Garver said. Three other people are expected to join the flight.

Although details of the flight launch are still unknown, the company said it's aiming to complete two spaceflight tests this summer.

Some suggest Whitesides' launch could be as early as late August to early September given Virgin Galactic took 50 days between its two last spaceflights.

By Friday's close, Virgin Galactic fell by four percent, to $29.58.

The company has launched four spaceflights so far, with Branson on the most recent one, called Unity 22.

The company is also planning two more tests of the VSS Unity. The first launch will include four "mission specialists" and the second will include members of the Italian Air Force.

Branson's comments come a week before Jeff Bezos launched to the atmosphere's edge on July 20, which is the same day the Federal Aviation Administration readjusted its definition of an astronaut.

New guidelines released by the FAA during Bezos' flight changed the criteria used to award those with astronaut delineation through the FAA's Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program.

It therefore ruled Bezos will not earn those coveted astronaut wings.

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