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Dave Petri, Orion Avionics & Software Test Systems Manager
JSC2012-E-099553: Dave Petri, Orion Avionics & Software Test Systems Manager

Dave Petri, Orion Avionics & Software Test Systems Manager. Credit: NASA

This profile continues a series to introduce the people behind the development of Orion. The first space-bound Orion vehicle recently arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida from Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. At Kennedy, the spacecraft will be outfitted for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), planned for 2014. EFT-1 is an essential step that will allow engineers to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities to prepare Orion for deep space exploration.


Born in Chicago, Ill., and grew up in Mt. Prospect, a suburb of Chicago.
Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University
Master’s degree in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University
Joined NASA Johnson Space Center in 1989 in Planet Surface Systems for the Human Exploration Initiative

What is your contribution to EFT-1?

My contribution is to help formulate a comprehensive but affordable and risk-balanced test campaign to ensure a safe and successful EFT-1 mission. This calls for planning and re-planning the test campaign to accommodate the evolving hardware and software delivery schedules and continually assessing the progress of the integration and testing activities.

Why is that contribution important?

Executing the test campaign in an effective and efficient manner ensures that the verification and validation data is produced that provides the objective evidence and ultimately gives the program the confidence that the EFT-1 mission is ready to fly.

Why do you need this flight test, and what kinds of things do you hope to learn from it?

Tests are an investment in risk mitigation. Flight tests are the highest fidelity type of test to be done and are an important type of test in an overall test campaign. The purpose of a flight test is to gather data on integrated function and performance of space vehicle systems in the integrated natural and induced environments in which they needed to operate. There is no ability to test all systems and conditions in an integrated manner through ground-based testing. The flight test can fill that gap by providing data to validate and anchor the simulations, models and analysis. The EFT-1 flight test will provide critical data to validate the integrated function and performance of Orion spacecraft in the flight environment. It is a critical milestone in the overall human rating of the spacecraft.

What do you find most fulfilling or like best about your job?

In my current position, I get the opportunity to plan, participate in and guide the integrated avionics and software test campaigns for the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle missions. The most fulfilling part of the job is managing, along with my Lockheed-Martin counterpart, the NASA/contractor integration and test team that are performing first-time integration and test of the Exploration Flight Test-1 mission. There is nothing more special than getting to see things work for the first time and being a part of the team that made it happen.

What’s the most interesting part of what you do here at JSC?

I think the most interesting part of JSC is the variety of disciplines that need to be integrated together to conduct human spaceflight activities. The traditional engineering disciplines and the natural sciences provide a rich mixture of talent to be applied to a variety of projects. There is never a shortage of activities that don’t stimulate your technical curiosity.

What’s your best NASA memory so far?

My best memories are associated with one of the primary goals we have as an agency, to explore the universe. My NASA memories start in childhood, watching men walk on the moon and then working on the Hubble Space Telescope before it launched and looking at those first images. I also had the opportunity to be in the Jet Propulsion Lab’s mission control when the Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars and returned its first images. But the best memories are associated with human spaceflight and watching the space shuttle launches. Of those, the most anxious and rewarding memories are associated with STS-114, the return-to-flight mission after Columbia. I’ve never felt a greater sense of responsibility to do everything I could to ensure a safe and successful flight, diligently working endless hours before and during the flight and the great sense of accomplishment when it was completed.

When you’re not at the office, what do you like to do?

I enjoy being with my family, such as going out to dinner, going to a movie or watching my two boys play sports. When I have time to myself, I’m learning to play guitar and listening to music. When I have a few extra bucks, I enjoy working on my 2008 Mustang GT.

What were your career goals as a teenager?

The Apollo moon landings shaped my career plans, so as a teenager I always wanted to work at NASA and be a part of the space program. It was pretty simple choosing engineering as a profession.