Safety Obsessed Virgin Galactic’s Vice President of Safety Retired Ten Months Ago

“At Virgin Galactic, safety is our guiding principle and the North Star for all programmatic decisions. Our culture is one of prioritizing safety as the most important factor in every element of our work, and any suggestions to the contrary are untrue.”

— Virgin Galactic Statement, Nov. 4, 2014

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

As Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson defends the safety culture and record of Virgin Galactic against what it terms as unwarranted attacks, Parabolic Arc has learned that the man whom the company lists on its website as its vice president of safety retired in January 2014. Sources also say he has not been seen at the office for over a year.

On his LinkedIn biography, Jon Turnipseed lists himself as a now retired safety official who served as Virgin Galactic vice president of safety from September 2010 to January of this year. His current status is listed as “Idaho.”

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However, Virgin Galactic has continued to list Turnipseed as holding that position on its website as early as last month. Although the Our Team section of the Virgin Galactic now defaults to a single page with a series of statements about the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo on Friday morning, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has a version of the page from Oct. 6, 2014, that clearly lists Turnipseed as holding that position.

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Parabolic Arc also reviewed the Our Team page within the past several weeks. Turnipseed was listed as safety vice president at that time. The specific date of that review is uncertain.

Parabolic Arc wrote about Turnipseed’s departure on Feb. 1, 2014 [Mojave Jobs: Virgin Galactic Needs a Vice President of Safety].  Virgin Galactic Vice President for Special Projects Will Pomerantz quickly responded with the following clarification:

Some info on that specific job opening, since the rumor mill is churning out bad data (as seems to be the case so often): Jon Turnipseed’s last day as a full time employee was Dec 19, but he is still serving as a contractor to the company. Jon left big shoes to fill when he retired after spending several years here at VG/TSC (in addition to a great career with the US Air Force), but we are now interviewing our final candidates for the job. Of course, we remain open to great candidates who haven’t yet gotten in touch—it’s  important to get the best possible person for the job!

In a communication to Virgin Galactic ticket holders on March 4, 2014, Astronaut Relations Manager Gemma Vigor confirmed that Turnipseed had left the company, calling his departure “a planned retirement due to age.” [An Open Letter to Virgin Galactic’s Astronaut Relations Manager]

Several former Virgin Galactic employees have said that they last saw Turnipseed at Virgin Galactic’s offices in October 2013. Management claimed that he continued to serve as a consultant, but they sources didn’t believe that story based on not seeing him at work. They also pointed out that companies typically don’t hire retired consultants as their vice presidents of safety. Especially when they’re going through a challenging flight test program of a set of experimental flying vehicles.