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Stucky Turns Blue: Joins Jeff Bezos’ Space Company After Departure From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 19, 2021
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Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Mark Stucky, whom Virgin Galactic demoted as its director of flight test in May and fired two months later, has joined Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company, CNN reports.

Stucky said he will join Blue Origin’s “Advanced Development Programs” team, where he said in a statement to CNN that he will “do my best to contribute to [CEO Jeff Bezos’] amazing vision of humans not just having a continuous presence in space but truly becoming a space-faring species.”

It’s an amazing vision that is literally right out of a Gerard K. O’Neill book. Present and past employees have said it’s also also a vision moving at a snail’s pace under the dysfunctional leadership of CEO Bob Smith.

Virgin Galactic demoted Stucky after the publication of a book in May about the company in which he served as the main character. Apparently management didn’t like what he had to say. Virgin Galactic kept him onboard, probably for the sake of appearances, until eight days after company founder Richard Branson made a suborbital flight aboard SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on July 11.

Virgin Galactic fired him eight days later. The move came one day before his new boss, Jeff Bezos, flew above 100 km aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard on that vehicle’s first crewed flight.

After leaving Virgin Galactic, Stucky had a war of words — Twitter style — with the former employer over a mishap that occurred on Branson’s flight. VSS Unity ended up off course and strayed outside of its assigned airspace during its descent. Virgin Galactic blamed the incident on high altitude winds; Stucky claimed it was pilot error. The FAA ended up grounding VSS Unity for about two months while an investigation

Stucky was deemed an astronaut by the U.S. government after piloting VSS Unity above the U.S. recognized boundary of space of 50 miles (80.4 km) in December 2018. That boundary is not recognized by other nations, which set the beginning of space at 100 km (62.1 miles), also known as the Karman line.

New Shepard regularly exceeds the Karman line. However, it automated vehicle that doesn’t require pilots, so it doesn’t require someone with Stucky’s test pilot skills. Blue Origin is developing a larger rocket, New Glenn, and plans to eventually send astronauts to space.

6 responses to “Stucky Turns Blue: Joins Jeff Bezos’ Space Company After Departure From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic”

  1. Robert G. Oler says:

    Both Boeing and BO are hiring new talent 🙂

  2. schmoe says:

    Mark Stucky is a test pilot. I wonder what does BO need a test pilot for– Their existing spacecraft (New Shepard) and those being designed (New Glenn, National Team lunar lander, etc.) are all supposed to be autonomous, no?

    Can a pilot land a National Team HLS manually considering it is much taller than an Apollo LM? If they intend to design the HLS lander to be manually landable, maybe they need Stucky to fly another Flying Bedstead (like the one that almost killed Neil Armstrong). 😀

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      The reason all of the original astronauts were test pilots was because they were also expert engineers who had experience in making complex systems work.

  3. Stanistani says:

    It’s possible that Bezos feels he needs a Gene Kranz type to set some fires under some comfortable butts at Blue Origin.

    If he’s given that brief, not a bad choice.

    • schmoe says:

      Had Bezos fired Bob Smith at the same time he hired Mark Stucky, maybe.

      But since Bob Smith is still comfortably ensconced in the BO C-suite, I’d say no.

    • publiusr says:

      You need a brash pilot…a good stick-and-rudder man that has the stones to do what many engineers won’t—-blow past the secretary: “sir, sir, you can’t go in th-“SLAM!

      He had Kirk…now he needs Buck Rogers to give him a motivational boot….thus Dream Chaser and a chance for Stucky to fly a real spaceplane to and from the Orbital Reef. Stucky’s idea?

      This announcement may just be the biggest New Space news article ever!

      Elon Musk on the other hand, may need a McCoy: “Jim, you’re pushing.”

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