first CEO of virgin galactic

Last spring, Exploration Curriculum Advisory Committee member George Whitesides [Intermediate '87-88] became the first Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, the only commercial space tourism company in the country. Continuing his passion for, and career in, the space travel industry, Whitesides made the move from his post as chief of staff at NASA to the Virgin Galactic headquarters in "Spaceport, America," located in Upham, New Mexico. There, he has been charged with leading the company "from a development project to a commercially operational business." Whitesides was thrilled to take on this role and "continues to be excited about opening the experience of space travel to people around the world."

It certainly seems as though the public is eager to take advantage of this exceptional opportunity. Since 2005, nearly 400 people have reserved their place in space with Virgin Galactic. For a deposit of $200,000, these folks have secured a spot onboard SpaceShipTwo, a 600-foot vehicle that has room for eight astronauts — two trained pilots and six regular Janes and Joes. Every passenger will have two windows to maximize the in-flight view, and plenty of wiggle room to experience zero gravity. These everyday astronauts will have three days of pre-flight preparation prior to their launch, intended to be as much about fun and bonding as it is about education. Virgin Galactic's goal is to make space travel as accessible as possible, without requiring "exhaustive training," or significant medical restrictions. With Whitesides as commander, the company is committed to "ending the exclusivity attached to manned space travel."

To join Whitesides in space, or to just learn more about this exciting company and their not-so-distant-future mission, visit Virgin Galactic's website.

a new take on talk

Actress Sara Gilbert [Senior '90], probably best known for her role as Darlene Connor on the popular situation comedy Roseanne, has a new spot on television. Her show, The Talk, premiered on October 18, 2010, exactly 22 years after the premiere of the sitcom that made her famous.

Now airing daily on CBS at 2PM, The Talk, as its name suggests, is a talk show that is "like a maternal-centered version of ABC's The View." The hour-long show, which Gilbert developed and now executive produces as well as co-hosts (alongside five other celebrity moms, including Lisa Chen, host of The Early Show and wife of CBS CEO Les Moonves, Leah Remini of Kings and Queens and Sharon Osbourne, who likely needs no introduction) is a wide-ranging program that looks at issues "through the lens of motherhood." The show features daily interviews, as well as a spirited discussion of viewer-suggested topics, current events, and practical advice for at-home parents. It's also designed to be a female community of sorts — a televised support group for mothers.

Gilbert had the idea for the show shortly after having her second child, at a time when she felt overwhelmed, pulled in a multitude of directions and, often, alone. She found comfort in a local mothers group and thought it would be wonderful to extend that camaraderie to all moms. "We started out talking about parenting," Gilbert says in the show's pilot, reflecting upon the early days in her group. "And then we started talking about everything. I thought, 'people across the country need this kind of support system.'"    

Although it has been exciting for Gilbert to have her concept realized, she admits to being a little out of her element as a talk show host. Probably closer in nature to the introverted character she played as an adolescent, she's not blessed with the gift of gab. "It's one thing to have this idea in the bathtub," she says, "but now I'm in front of millions of people and I'm like, 'wait a minute, I am so not a talk show host.'" The self-deprecation is endearing, and in fact Gilbert more than holds her own on the show with her cerebral sensibility, quiet wisdom, and refreshing insight.

Active as an actress and a visual artist her entire life, Gilbert landed her first role on a television movie in 1984 and has been performing steadily ever since. A magna cum laude graduate of Yale University (current home of the Senior Program, though Gilbert attended Exploration when Senior was still on the campus of Wellesley College), Gilbert majored in art, with a focus on photography. In addition to her long list of recurring roles and guest appearances on popular television shows (Will & Grace, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, 24, Law & Order SVU, Private Practice) and movies, Gilbert has also had her photography on exhibit at the Paul Morris Gallery in New York City and at the Deutsche Guggenheim Museum in Berlin. As for awards and prestige, Gilbert's directorial debut of short film Persona Non Grata earned her an invitation to the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and she received two Emmy Award nominations for her work on Roseanne.

Gilbert's latest venture replaces the As the World Turns, the longest-running soap opera in history. That's a lot to live up to, but this Exploration alumna has proven staying power.

explo spirit day 2011

The third annual Explo Spirit Day, formerly known as Global Explo Lanyard Day, is right around the corner. The worldwide Exploration event will take place on Wednesday, January 26th. Started by 15 year-old David Gumins, a long-time Exploration student and devotee, Spirit Day provides the perfect opportunity to express your enthusiasm for all things Explo.

The idea began a few years ago when Gumins returned home after an amazing experience at the Explo Intermediate Program. Feeling glum and longing for summer, Gumins created a Facebook group called “Yeah, I Still Miss Explo.” 300 people joined the group. Surprised and encouraged by the response, Gumins made something more of it, creating “Global Explo Lanyard Day,” also known as “Wear Your Lanyard to School Day.” All 300 group members wore their Explo lanyard (the universal identifier of Program attendance) on the same day.

The next summer, Gumins was approached by Exploration’s Executive Director Moira Kelly, who congratulated him on his achievement and asked him to think even bigger for the following year. With support of the full-time Exploration crew and some new incentives, including an online photo contest, Gumins was able to triple the size of the event. On January 27th, 2010, more than 1000 alumni displayed their Explo spirit in creative, hilarious ways. The lanyards were a given. But also making their way into the photos were: t-shirts, wigs,hard hats, and even a duck-billed platypus. Add photoshop and a sense of humor to the mix and it goes without saying that the photo contest, and the day, were wildly successful.

This year, we expect the response to be even bigger. Facebook is still the event hub, and Gumins reports nearly 1200 registered attendees with a week to go. Once again the photo contest will be a big draw. Adding to the excitement, Lorie Durant, Exploration’s Director of Admission and Alumni Affairs, has agreed to stay up for 24 hours to post the photos in real time. Durant, herself as spirited as they come, will lead a committee in judging photos and determining winners across several categories.

To participate in this international event, sign up through Facebook or email Lorie Durant directly at On the morning of January 26th, don your Explo lanyard/s as well as any and all Exploration gear you own, and as the Spirit Day mission statement says, “join people across the world rejoicing in the same welcoming spirit we have all experienced at Explo.”

Event director Gumins will be hard to miss at his high school in Wilton, Connecticut next Wednesday. His planned wardrobe? His five Explo lanyards (including one with a kazoo), as well as an Explo shirt, headband, water bottle, frisbee, and kickball…if he can find it.

Stay tuned for photos, winners, and highlights of the big day.

future of film

Filmmaker and Massachusetts native Rob Meyer [Junior Faculty '96] has been getting a lot of attention recently, particularly for his short film Aquarium. The film, which Meyer wrote and directed, has received national acclaim and has won more than 20 awards, including Honorable Mention at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Heralded as a "pitch-perfect coming-of-age short" (Boston Globe), Aquarium is set in and around Boston and offers a poignant, at times heartbreaking juxtaposition of deeply troubling and wildly rewarding moments in the life of an adolescent boy. The 16-minute film has breadth and depth, with moments of humor, awkwardness, sadness, poignancy, and surprise. It has a wonderful give-and-take of intensity and lightheartedness. It is disturbing, it is comforting. It provokes revulsion, it demands empathy. It is one guy, it is every guy. And yet, it defies stereotypes and hasn't been made before. It feels complete and also leaves you wanting more. The work has received overwhelmingly positive reviews in the press and is currently being developed into a full-length feature called A Birder's Guide to Everything.

Meyer has demonstrated his incredible range through several other short films and pieces. He directed and produced Legs, a powerful documentary about a woman who lost both her legs due to a circulatory disease and learns to walk — and dance — with prosthetic limbs; and he has made less intense, but equally creative commercials for Levi's, Bank of America,, NYU, and Tropicana, as well as a "branded short" called Sam's Tail, about a man and his talking ponytail, made for Heineken Premium Light.

A graduate of Yale University, Meyer double concentrated in Humanities and Environmental Studies and went on to study film at NYU, where he earned his MFA. Prior to graduate school, the filmmaker worked for National Geographic and NOVA. These roles took him around the globe — to Nepal, Antarctica, Alaska, and Egypt — making award-winning documentaries. Meyer is now focusing his work closer to home (he grew up in Newton), which is serving him quite well.

A multi-talented artist, Meyer also plays the violin and has been a member of both the Yale Symphony and the Boston Philharmonic orchestras. Whether making music or making films, Meyer is certainly making a name for himself in the arts world. His films and commercials are edgy, quirky, unique, and real. One critic from the Miami New Times recently commented that Meyer's films "represent the future of cinema." 

To learn more about Meyer and his work, you can visit his website. The award-winning Aquarium is now available on iTunes. It lives up to the hype and is definitely worth the price of admission.

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