Donald Pettit

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Donald Pettit
Donald R. Pettit.jpg
Pettit in 2002
Donald Roy Pettit

(1955-04-20) April 20, 1955 (age 67)
OccupationChemical engineer
Space career
NASA Astronaut
Time in space
369 days 16 hours 41 minutes
Selection1996 NASA Group
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
13 hours 17 minutes
MissionsSTS-113, Expedition 6, Soyuz TMA-1, STS-126, Soyuz TMA-03M (Expedition 30/31)
Mission insignia
STS-113 Patch.svg Expedition 6 insignia.svg Soyouz TMA-1 logo.svg STS-126 patch.svg ISS Expedition 30 Patch.png ISS Expedition 31 Patch.png
EducationOregon State University (BA)
University of Arizona (PhD)
Scientific career
FieldsChemical engineering
ThesisCoherent detection of scattered light by submicrometer aerosols (1983)
Doctoral advisorThomas W. Peterson

Donald Roy Pettit (born April 20, 1955) is an American astronaut and chemical engineer. He is a veteran of two long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station, one Space Shuttle mission and a six-week expedition to find meteorites in Antarctica. As of 2022, at age 67, he is NASA's oldest active astronaut.

Early life and education[edit]

Pettit was raised in Silverton, Oregon, and is an Eagle Scout.[1] He is married to Micki Pettit and has twin sons.[2]

Pettit earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University in 1978, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 1983.

NASA career[edit]

Pettit worked as a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory until 1996 when he was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. He was a junior advisor to the Synthesis Committee of the Space Exploration Initiative on its May 1991 report "America at the Threshold", recommending plans for a human mission to Mars.[3]: A-7 

Spaceflight experience[edit]

Expedition 6[edit]

Pettit pictured during an EVA

Pettit's first space mission was as a mission specialist on ISS Expedition 6 in 2002 and 2003. During his six-month stay aboard the space station, he performed two EVAs to help install external scientific equipment. During free time on his stay aboard the International Space Station, he conducted demonstrations showing how fluids react in an extremely low gravity environment in a series he called "Saturday Morning Science".[4]

The Expedition 6 mission was extended by about two months, following the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003. Instead of returning on a shuttle the crew returned in a Russian Soyuz capsule, the first time American astronauts had launched on the Space Shuttle and landed in a Soyuz.[5]


Pettit was mission specialist 1 on the STS-126 mission to deliver equipment and supplies to the ISS.[6]

Pettit also performed experiments on board ISS related to clumping of solid particles in microgravity. The experiments showed that particles of various materials which varied in size between 1 micrometer and 6 mm naturally clumped together in microgravity when confined to a volume of 4 liters that included a few grams of the materials. The cause was theorized to be electrostatic. This presents a plausible mechanism for the initial stages of planetary formation, since particles of this size do not have sufficient gravity to cause this phenomenon.[7][8]

Expedition 30/31[edit]

Pettit again launched to the International Space Station on December 21, 2011, as part of the Expedition 30/31 crew.[9] He and fellow crewmembers Oleg Kononenko and André Kuipers arrived at the ISS on December 23.[10] Among his off-duty video demonstrations on the space station has been on water as thin film and the Marangoni convection.[11]

On May 25, 2012, Pettit and Kuipers operated the Canadarm2 to grapple the SpaceX Dragon and berth it to the Harmony module.[12] Pettit was the first to enter the unmanned supply ship on May 26, making him the first astronaut in the history of space exploration to successfully enter a commercially-built and operated spacecraft berthed to the ISS in orbit.

Angry Birds Space Demos[edit]

Pettit demonstrates microgravity using characters from 'Angry Birds.'

During Expedition 30, on behalf of NASA in cooperation with Finland-based Rovio Entertainment, creator of the Angry Birds franchise, Pettit also made another video by using an Angry Birds character to explain how physics works in space, including demonstrating trajectories in microgravity by catapulting a Red Bird through the space station.

NASA states that such collaboration may share the excitement of space with the game community, educate users on NASA's programs, and create interactive educational experiences for the public.[13]

The footage was released by NASA both on its official site and YouTube along with another commercial version by Rovio on March 8, 2012, to announce the launch of new game Angry Birds Space on March 22, 2012.[14]


Astronaut Pettit operates the barn door tracker he constructed for ISS-based photography of the Earth's surface.

During Expedition 6 in 2002/2003, Pettit used spare parts found throughout the Station to construct a barn door tracker; the device compensates for the movement of the ISS relative to the Earth's surface, permitting sharper high resolution images of city lights at night from the orbiting space station.[15][16]

In November 2008, Pettit invented a zero-g coffee cup, which used the wetting angle to carry the coffee along a crease to permit drinking and avoid the necessity of a straw. This zero-g cup was featured in the May 2009 National Geographic Magazine issue, along with his notes on the relation of the internal cup angle to the contact wetting angle for various construction materials.[17]


Pettit in 2009

From November 2006 through January 2007, Pettit joined the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET), spending six weeks in the Antarctic summer collecting meteorite samples,[18] including a lunar meteorite. During the expedition, he was called on to perform emergency electrical repairs to a snowmobile and emergency dental surgery. Periods of tent-confining inclement weather were spent continuing his Saturday Morning Science series—"on Ice"—with photographic surveys of crystal sizes of glacial ice samples and collections of magnetic micrometeorites from ice melt used for cooking water. (He estimated Antarctic glacial ice to contain roughly 1 micrometeorite per liter.)


  1. ^ "Astronauts and the BSA". Fact sheet. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2010-09-16.
  2. ^ "Ballistic Entry".
  3. ^ "America at the Threshold" (PDF). USRA. May 3, 1991. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Jones, Chris (6 March 2007). Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space (1st ed.). Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385514651.
  6. ^ Schwartz, John (2008-11-14). "Handyman to Return to His Space Workshop". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  7. ^ "FAST, REPEATABLE CLUMPING OF SOLID PARTICLES IN MICROGRAVITY" (PDF). S. G. Love and D. R. Pettit. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
  8. ^ "Building Planets in Plastic Bags". Sky and Telescope. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
  9. ^ "New expedition 30 crew members launch to station". NASA. 2011-12-21.
  10. ^ Klotz, Irene (23 December 2011). "New crew arrives at International Space Station". Reuters. Archived from the original on 9 January 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  11. ^ Don Pettit (2012-03-08). "Thin Film Physics". PhysicsCentralAPS.
  12. ^ Jonathan Amos (2012-05-25). "Station grabs SpaceX Dragon ship". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
  13. ^ "What Is Microgravity?". 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  14. ^ "Angry Birds in Space". 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  15. ^ Cindy Evans & Will Stefanov (22 April 2008). "Cities at Night: The View from Space". NASA. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  16. ^ "Space Station Astrophotography". NASA. Archived from the original on 2009-08-14. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  17. ^ Charlie White. "Astronaut invents coffee cup for a weightless cup o' joe". Archived from the original on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  18. ^ "Don Pettit Goes to Antarctica". 2006-12-11. Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2007-09-21.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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