Legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde is first Virgin Galactic ‘experience architect’

by Samantha Davis-Friedman

After 40 years designing magical theme park experiences for Disney Parks around the world, recently-retired Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde is now a strategic advisor for Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline and vertically integrated aerospace company founded in 2004 by Sir Richard Branson.

Joe Rohde, Virgin Galactic
Photos courtesy of Virgin Galactic

With preparations already underway for the first arrivals at Spaceport America in New Mexico—the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport—Rohde’s role at Virgin Galactic will be to help design and guide the overall experience journey for future astronauts, friends and family, and inspired fans.

“I spent 40 years with Walt Disney Imagineering and that word, ‘Imagineering,’ refers to the fusion of imagination and engineering,” Rohde said. “This 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.”

Virgin Galactic, Unity, Spaceport America
Unity arrives at Spaceport America

A self-described artist, traveler, storyteller, and “creativity guy,” Rohde’s work on some of Disney’s most iconic experiences and attractions has employed carefully detailed composition to create authentic and remarkable experiences.  Similarly, as Virgin Galactic’s experience architect, Rohde’s task will be to “stimulate curiosity, guide the imagination, and anchor the Virgin Galactic customer experience with purposefulness and meaning.”

“As soon as I joined Virgin Galactic, I knew there was one person we just had to work with to help shape the incredible experience we are developing – and that person was Joe Rohde,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier. “Joe has a methodology that is unique, inspired, and truly effective. His track record for keeping authenticity central to the design and creating deeply transformative experiences aligns perfectly with our mission. I couldn’t be more pleased to see Joe choose Virgin Galactic for his first encore!’’

Virgin Galactic, SpaceShipTwo
SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry eight people into space

During a recorded statement, Rohde noted that many of his projects at Walt Disney Imagineering involved the transformational power of adventure – to go somewhere you’ve never been, do something you’ve never done, and see something you’ve never seen.

“To go beyond the reaches of the earth into space and to look back down at it is a spectacularly unique opportunity with huge potential for transformational change in a person,” he said.  “What Virgin Galactic is doing, in democratizing space travel, has reached a moment where it is about to enter history […], and it’s very rare to be a person who gets to be in the place, at the time, that history begins.’’

Watch the entire video statement from Joe Rohde below and click here to learn more about Virgin Galactic.

Former Imagineer Joe Rohde Joins Virgin Galactic As Experience Architect

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