B.S. Chemical Engineering ’78
National Aeronautics & Space Administration
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
Donald Pettit has traveled from Silverton, Oregon, to infinity and beyond with a stop in Corvallis in between. As an earth-bound undergraduate at Oregon State University, Pettit earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1978 and went on to complete doctoral studies in the same discipline at the University of Arizona in 1983.
Pettit began his career as a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where his projects included experiments in reduced gravity fluid flow and materials processing, atmospheric spectroscopy on clouds seeded from rockets, and fumarole gas sampling from volcanoes. He also solved problems in detonation physics. He was a member of the Synthesis Group, which assembled the technology to return to the moon and explore Mars, and the Space Station Freedom Redesign Team.
In 1996, Pettit was selected by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) to report to the Johnson Space Center as an astronaut. A veteran of three spaceflights, Pettit has logged more than 370 days in space and more than 13 spacewalk hours. He lived aboard the International Space Station for more than five months during Expedition 6, was a member of the STS-126 crew, and again lived aboard the space station for more than six months as part of the Expedition 30/31 crew.
Pettit returned to Earth on July 1, 2012, having launched to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz TMA-03M craft from Kazakhstan. As the NASA flight engineer, Pettit joined Russian Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers in docking the shuttle and restoring the space station crew complement to six.
Research at the space station during Pettit’s deployment marked a new era of commercial resupply services from the United States when the first commercial cargo SpaceX Dragon spaceship was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Following a series of maneuverability tests and abort systems tests, the capsule was grappled and berthed using the station’s robotic arm.
Also during this mission, Pettit used household objects aboard the space station to perform a variety of unusual physics experiments for the video series “Science Off the Sphere.” Through these demonstrations, Pettit showed more than a million Internet viewers how space affects scientific principles.
At the end of this most recent mission, Pettit landed in Kazakhstan after 193 days in space and orbiting the Earth 3,088 times and traveling more than 76 million.