Whitesides will stay on with the company in a new role, serving as its chief space officer. The changeover comes as Virgin Galactic closes in on launching its first customer flights to the edge of space, with a handful of final test spaceflights expected in the coming months.
"I want to thank George for his outstanding leadership of Virgin Galactic over the last decade. He has shown dedication and determination as its first CEO to build the Company from early stage development through to space flight, the first from American soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle," Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson said in a statement.
Colglazier was most recently the president and managing director of Disney Parks International, the culmination of more than 30 years at the media and entertainment giant.
"I believe Michael's long and distinguished career at one of the world's leading customer experience brands provides a natural fit with Virgin's culture as well as Galactic's requirements as it prepares for commercial service," Branson said.
The change will be effective next Monday. Whitesides will also step down fro Virgin Galactic's board of directors, with Colglazier taking his place.
"Michael's skillset is highly complementary to that of the incredible team that we have at Virgin Galactic. He has considerable commercial and managerial experience and a proven track record of successfully commercializing new and innovative products and services all over the world," Virgin Galactic chairman Chamath Palihapitiya said in a statement.
Shares of Virgin Galactic rose more than 5% in after-hours trading from its close of $18.55.
Whitesides has served as the CEO of the company for 10 years, growing the company from a team of 30 to its current workforce of over 900. He has led the company through times of both difficulty and triumph, including a fatal accident during testing in 2014 and its first two successful spaceflights last year. In the past few months, despite the coronavirus pandemic, Whitesides transitioned the company from its testing facility in California's Mojave Desert to its operating base at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic is steadily closing in on launching its commercial service, with the company looking to clear remaining milestones with a few more spaceflight tests.
The company said that Whitesides new role will have him focus on developing Virgin Galactic's future business, including its more long-term opportunities like hypersonic travel.
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