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Donald Pettit, Ph.D., B.S.
July 30, 2014

[image-51]From using spare parts he found on the International Space Station (ISS) to build a tracking device that enables sharper high-resolution images of city lights from the orbiting ISS to inventing a zero-g coffee cup for space use, Dr. Donald Pettit is a true innovator with talent for outside-the-box thinking. He became known for his “Saturday Morning Science” experiments while aboard the ISS during Expedition 6. During these sessions, he conducted and videotaped his own series of scientific experiments and downlinked them to the Mission Control Center in Houston.

As a NASA astronaut, Dr. Pettit logged more than 370 days in space and more than 13 extravehicular activity (EVA) hours. He lived aboard the ISS for five and a half months during Expedition 6, was a member of the STS-126 crew, and lived aboard the ISS for another six and a half months as part of the Expedition 30/31 crew.

Dr. Pettit began his career at NASA in 1996, when he was accepted as an astronaut candidate. Prior to that he worked with Los Alamos National Laboratory as a staff scientist assigned to experiments involving reduced gravity fluid flow and materials processing onboard the NASA KC-135 airplane, atmospheric spectroscopy on noctilucent clouds seeded from sounding rockets, fumarole gas sampling from volcanoes, and problems in detonation physics. He was also a member of the synthesis group that assembled the technology to return to the moon and explore Mars (1990) and a member of the Space Station Freedom redesign team (1993).

Dr. Pettit says that, as a kid growing up in Oregon, math and science were his favorite subjects.

“I see math as a tool that helps you explore the science and explain things, and perhaps it all boils down to curiosity and wanting to explore the world around us and figure out how it all works.“

When he saw John Glenn in space, it opened his eyes as a kid and made him realize, “Wow! I can do that.”

And he did do it. He credits his success to the mentors he had, from high school chemistry teachers to some of his college professors; his post-graduate college professors; and his parents, who were central to helping him move from being a kid to an adult. He also credits his rural upbringing, which teaches you to make-do with the resources you have and that you have to learn to fix things.

“You learn to make whatever you want from the junk that’s lying around you,” he says. “That’s what I seem to be utilizing so much in my professional career.”

When asked about his favorite part of his job, he replies that there are two facets of parallel importance. One is that you get to fly in space, and two is that you get to work with students and young people and get them excited about math, science, and engineering.

“You’re in a position where you can work their minds into thinking about coming and working in the space program and taking over my job when I’m ready to sit in a rocking chair and see the next generation go off,” he says. “That has to be one of the most gratifying parts of the whole job—to see the eyes of these students light up when you tell them stories about exploring space.“

His advice to kids is this: “Your education is the key for doing everything cool in life.”

Dr. Pettit holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Arizona.

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Donald Pettit
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Page Last Updated: August 6th, 2014
Page Editor: Lee Obringer