Space Dreams

Don Pettit prepared for departure from the ISS on July 1. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
Don Pettit prepared for departure from the ISS on July 1. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

When he’s on Earth, Don Pettit dreams about space. But when he’s in space, he dreams about walking on Earth.  “Dreams may have something to do with humans never being satisfied, which is why we go exploring in the first place,” he says.

If there’s a gene for the urge to explore new worlds, Pettit has it. The Oregon State University alum (chemical engineering, ’78) has launched into orbit three times. He’s logged 370 days in space, placing him fourth among NASA astronauts.

Pettit has conducted experiments, spent more than 13 hours in a spacesuit outside the ISS and created a series of science videos to show how water, static electricity and other things we take for granted on Earth behave in a weightless environment.

After six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the native of Silverton, Ore., returned to Earth on July 1. He’d go back, as he says, in a nanosecond. Moreover, he’d gladly load up his family to colonize the moon or Mars — as long as they could return home safely.

The space shuttle docked with the International Space Station (Photo: Don Pettit)
In previous trips to the International Space Station, Pettit rode aboard the space shuttle, shown here when it was docked with the ISS. (Photo: Don Pettit)

He knows all too well that getting back can be harrowing. During his latest trip, Pettit landed in the Kazakhstan desert in what he calls “a series of explosions followed by a car crash.” After that, it took several weeks to adjust to living in Earth’s gravity again.

On July 20, he talked with reporters about the commercialization of space flight, why space flight is important and why he decided to grow a zucchini in the corner.

In case you were wondering, he says a space station smells like a cross between a machine shop and a science lab, although the odors of roast beef may drift in at dinner time. See the video above on the right or click here.