George T. Whitesides is applying his experience in aerospace to the growing global crisis of extreme wildfires.

Why you should listen

Megafires are defined as fires that burn more than 100,000 acres of land — and in an era of climate crisis, they're becoming more common. The smoke from these fires can threaten the health of millions of people, their intensity can destroy forests and their impact can ravage local economies. Longtime aerospace executive George T. Whitesides is working to make these fires a manageable challenge. He cofounded Megafire Action, an advocacy organization that supports wildfire science and forest treatment through policy. He is also a venture partner at Convective Capital, which invests exclusively in "firetech" companies that provide critical support and solutions such as vegetation-management tools, heat monitoring satellites and firefighting drones. Whitesides serves as an advisor to several philanthropic efforts in the wildfire sector and in 2023 began his campaign to represent California's 27th congressional district, aiming to bring a voice for science-based wildfire policy and innovation to the national level.

From 2010 to 2020, Whitesides was CEO of Virgin Galactic, where he oversaw the first human spaceflight from US soil after the retirement of the Space Shuttle. Before that, he was Chief of Staff of NASA, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the agency's highest honor. He currently serves on multiple aerospace and engineering councils and helps lead AstroAccess, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting disability inclusion in space exploration.

George T. Whitesides’ TED talk

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