The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Don Pettit Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

March 26, 2014


Donald Roy Pettit was born in 1955 in Silverton, Oregon. An Eagle Scout, Pettit graduated from Silverton Union High School in 1973 before moving on to Oregon State University, where he studied chemical engineering. After completing his OSU undergraduate degree in 1978, Pettit continued his studies at the University of Arizona, where he earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1983.

From 1984 to 1996, Pettit worked as staff scientist at the Los Alamos (New Mexico) National Laboratory. During this time, Pettit served on the laboratory's Synthesis Group, which was charged with developing the technology necessary for return missions to the moon and for the exploration of Mars. While at the National Laboratory, Pettit also worked on the Space Station Freedom Redesign Team.

In 1996 Pettit was selected by NASA to join its space program and become an astronaut. Six years later he launched on his first spaceflight, Expedition Six, during which he was transported to the International Space Station (ISS) by Space Shuttle Endeavour, worked as NASA Science Officer on the space station, and returned to Earth via a Soyuz capsule after five and a half months in orbit. (Initially planned as a two month assignment, Expedition Six was lengthened substantially as a result of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, which occurred while Pettit and crew were on the ISS.) It was during this mission that Pettit started the popular "Saturday Morning Science" web series, a collection of recorded demonstrations of scientific concepts and experiments as performed in a microgravity environment.

In 2006 Pettit spent six weeks in Antarctica collecting meteorite samples in support of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, sponsored by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation. While on the Antarctic, Pettit continued his educational programming, now temporarily retitled "Saturday Morning Science on Ice."

In 2008 Pettit made a return to space in support of a two-week venture to expand the living quarters of the ISS. During this trip, Pettit invented a zero-gravity coffee cup, which was later featured in National Geographic.

A much longer mission (Expedition 30/31) was launched in 2011, during which Pettit traveled to the ISS aboard a Soyuz capsule originating from a Russian base in Kazakhstan. This mission, which lasted 193 days, marked the first time that a commercial company participated in a space expedition, as the ISS was resupplied by a SpaceX Dragon ship. While in orbit, Pettit continued to film segments for "Saturday Morning Science."

Pettit is married and father to two sons. In total, he has spent more than a year in space.