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

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.