Joe Rohde Heads to Infinity, and Beyond

February 22, 2021, 1:58 PM · It didn't take Joe Rohde long to find a new gig, did it?

The long-time Disney Imagineer - who last year announced his January "retirement" from Walt Disney Imagineering today was announced as the first "Experience Architect" for Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson's venture to send tourists into space on suborbital flights. Its VSS Unity has reached an altitude of more than 55 miles in a test flight from Virgin Galactic's New Mexico spaceport, crossing the 50-mile threshold that the United States considers the boundary between the atmosphere and space.

"This is one of the most profound things that can happen to you. To go beyond the reaches of the Earth, to space, and look back down at it. It’s a spectacularly unique opportunity with huge potential for transformational change in a person," Rohde said in a press release issued by the company. "What Virgin Galactic is doing, in democratizing space travel, has reached a moment where it is about to enter history. It’s happening right here in New Mexico, and it’s very rare to be a person who gets to be in the place, at the time, that history begins."

Throughout the industry, Rohde has been known for his scholarly view of themed entertainment design. While at Disney, Rohde oversaw the development of some of the company's most acclaimed attractions, including Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, the Aulani resort in Hawaii, Pandora The World of Avatar, and most recently Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout.

Rohde was hired by Virgin Galactic's CEO - former Disneyland President Michael Colglazier.

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," Colglazier said. "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!"

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Replies (6)

February 22, 2021 at 2:54 PM

Space tourism is here! I wonder if there will be pre- and post-flight attractions and Virgin branded lodging for multi-day excursions. As for the flight, the suborbital trajectory will only cross into space briefly, but it’ll be a helluva ride!

February 22, 2021 at 4:40 PM

They will build special earlobe supports into each spaceship seat.

February 22, 2021 at 5:01 PM

Joe's gonna have to "research" this experience first-hand, right?

February 22, 2021 at 8:24 PM

Joe has his work cut out for himself. People who are willing to pay $250K for a brief feeling of weightlessness are going to be very demanding customers. But this is still tourism, and Joe certainly has the credentials to help build an experience that will be educating and exhilerating.

February 22, 2021 at 8:29 PM

Next, he should partner with Musk for the LA underground tunnels to make them truly immersive: get some smog effects going, maybe some animatronic hitchhikers... The possibilities really are endless.

February 23, 2021 at 10:03 AM

I'm really skeptical about the viability of space tourism near term, and I'm not sure why a company like Virgin Galactic would need to hire a creative person like Rohde. More power to him for leveraging his profile and success at Disney to earn such a lucrative position, but something tells me that the concept is not financially sustainable even if they plan on creating a high-end thematic experience.

I guess if people are going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a few minutes in low orbit, they expect to have an unmatched experience. However, I'd much rather spend an hour on the "Vomit Comet" for a fraction of the price than Branson's lavish pip up to low Earth orbit.

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