Founded by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is one of a handful of companies aiming to commercialize space travel. Its sister company, Virgin Orbit, has gained attention for pledging to send the first commercial small satellite mission to Mars, a planet back in the news of late because of NASA’s successful Rover landing. Plans are under way for the first “future astronauts” to start arriving at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic noted in announcing Rohde’s appointment. The company earlier this month had to cancel a test flight due to what it called “technical checks,” saying it would be rescheduled soon.
Rohde oversaw major Disney park projects like Pandora — the World of Avatar; the Guardians of the Galaxy update at Disney California Adventure; and the Villages Nature Eco-Resort next to Disneyland Paris. At Virgin Galactic, he will be a strategic advisor “to help design and guide the overall experience journey for future astronauts, friends and family, and inspired fans alike,” the company said, adding that his goal will be to “stimulate curiosity, guide the imagination, and anchor the Virgin Galactic customer experience with purposefulness and meaning.”
In a video recorded at Spaceport America, Rohde said his Disney Imagineering background means “I’ve come from a tradition where if you are imagining something, you are imagining that thing is going to be made real. That’s also been going on here at Virgin Galactic, and I’m delighted to be joining at this incredible moment in time when it is about to blossom into public awareness.”
Space travel, he added, “is one of the most profound things that can happen to you. To go beyond the reaches of the earth, to space, and look back down at it. It’s a spectacularly unique opportunity with huge potential for transformational change in a person…What Virgin Galactic is doing, in democratizing space travel, has reached a moment where it is about to enter history. It’s happening right here in New Mexico, and it’s very rare to be a person who gets to be in the place, at the time, that history begins.’’
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said he had long wanted Rohde to spearhead the company’s experience. “Joe has a methodology that is unique, inspired, and truly effective,” Colglazier said. “His track record for keeping authenticity central to the design and creating deeply transformative experiences aligns perfectly with our mission.”