WPAOG Podcast

EP76 Shooting For The Moon with Janet Petro `81, Director at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

Episode Summary

This episode features an interview with Janet Petro, Director at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, and West Point class of 1981. Janet talks about her journey from West Point cadet to her current role as Director of the Kennedy Space Center, her fascinating conversation with Elon Musk and partnering with SpaceX, and what to expect from NASA in the near future.

Episode Notes

This episode features an interview with Janet Petro ‘81, Director at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Janet began her professional career as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army after graduating in 1981 from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering. She was in the second class of West Point graduates to include women. 

Prior to being named Director at the Kennedy Space Center, Janet served as the deputy director since April 2007. During her tenure, she served a 12-month appointment at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as the deputy associate administrator and acting director for the Office of Evaluation. 

Prior to joining NASA, Janet served in various management positions for Science Applications International Corporation and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Corporation.

In this episode, Janet talks about her journey from West Point cadet to her current role as Director of the Kennedy Space Center, her fascinating conversation with Elon Musk and partnering with SpaceX, and what to expect from NASA in the near future.


Key Quotes:

“I think West Point was instrumental. I often talk about West Point as being sort of the foundational experience for who I am today. I was 17 years old when I went there. I had a, you know, handful of jobs, but nothing so immersive an experience as going to a place like West Point where, again, it's a very intensive training process. There's the academics, there's of course the military training, and of course all the stuff we go out in the field and learn to do. But what it did, you know, when you're young and you're 17, you're really not that confident, you really don't know what you can and you can't do. But going to West Point and learning 'cooperate and graduate', like nobody did anything on their own. You survived by cooperating together on how to get things done. And so I think that value of learning how to be a good teammate, a good team member, was one of the most important things I learned there.” - Janet Petro


Episode Timestamps:

(02:09) Janet’s background and experience at West Point

(10:04) Current role as Director of the Kennedy Space Center

(17:40) Mentorship and advice for cadets

(22:06) Graduation and becoming an aviator

(37:20) Upcoming NASA missions

(39:33) Partnering with SpaceX and speaking with Elon

(46:55) Astronauts and traveling into space

(52:09) Final thoughts



Janet Petro’s LinkedIn

West Point Association of Graduates

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Narrator: Hello and welcome to the WPAOG Podcast. This episode features an interview with Janet Petro, West Point class of 1981, and the Director at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center. 

Janet began her professional career as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army after graduating from West Point with a bachelor of science degree in engineering. She was in the second class of West Point graduates to include women. Prior to being named Director at the Kennedy Space Center, Janet served as the Deputy Director since April 2007. During her tenure, she served a 12 month appointment at NASA's headquarters in Washington, D. C. as the Deputy Associate Administrator and Acting Director for the Office of Evaluation. Prior to joining NASA, Janet served in various management positions for Science Applications International Corporation and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Corporation. 

In this episode, Janet speaks about her journey from West Point cadet to her current role as Director of the Kennedy Space Center, her fascinating conversation with Elon Musk and partnering with SpaceX, and what to expect from NASA in the near future.

Please enjoy this interview between Janet Petro, West Point Class of 1981. and Director at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, and Alisand Osuch, Class of 1981.

[00:01:35] Alisand Osuch: All right, Janet. Well, let me start off by saying thank you for inviting me to do this. What a treat, and I really appreciated Luke giving us this great tour of Kennedy Space Center. There's a lot going on here, and it's just amazing what you do. I'll just start off with that. So here we are. It's Actually has finally gotten here, uh, December 6th, 2023.

Can you believe it? Nope, sure can't. All right, cause, um, can't believe it. Um, anyway, we know you're amazing. So we're going to get right down into, uh, some of the details about that. So Janet, Janet Petro, tell us about yourself and how you got to West Point. 

[00:02:14] Janet Petro: Well, thank you, Alisand. And thank you again for agreeing to come moderate this event. I really appreciate it. So as you know, and you're also a fellow Floridian, I grew up here on the space coast in a small community, a beach community, 22 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center. My father worked out at the Kennedy Space Center. But when I was growing up, my family, I had four other siblings.

My parents really encouraged the value of hard work and encouraged their kids to be in sports. So we were always participating in, in community events or sporting events. I was on a lot of softball teams growing up. And so as I was, um, getting in middle school and then in high school and way back then, Alisand, remember back in the, uh, early, I say late seventies.

You know, it wasn't really a given to go to college. You know, a lot of kids didn't either have the money or not. It wasn't like a given that, you know, everybody who graduated from high school, their next step in their journey of life was going to college. So for me, with having so many, uh, siblings, my mom was a stay at home mom.

I had a great childhood, great time growing up in my small town community, uh, down there in Satellite Beach. Um, you know, I was thinking about, you know, what am I going to do after I graduate from high school? And I thought I wanted to go to college, but I really wasn't convinced I was going to be one discipline or another.

And I wasn't really sure about how the money would work with so many kids in our family going to college. And so, um, we had a lot of, um, congressmen, you know, reach out. They'd go to the schools. They'd encourage, um, kids who, You know, played a lot of sports, had a really good grade point average, um, to apply to go to the, uh, military academies.

And so for me, what the draw was, they're looking for a whole person, you know, like a whole person, not just somebody who's really good at academics or who's really good at sports or who's, um, really good at another particular field, but they wanted, you know, somebody who was broad, they could potentially become a leader.

And so that was a big draw for me. And West Point obviously had a really great reputation. Um, you know, you get paid to go there. I did not visit the Academy at all before I went up there. So I applied, I interviewed with a couple of congressmen and a couple of senators and, um, ultimately was, um, selected to go to West Point.

And I will also say just a small story. The first time I was ever on a plane in my life is when I got on that plane to fly to New York for our day back in, uh, I think it was July of 1977. So a lot of whole bunch of great experiences, right? And my parents, again, Times were very different back then. So plane rides were very, very expensive.

So I didn't have, my parents didn't fly up there with me. Um, I was on a plane. I remember flying into New York city, getting on that bus and getting dropped off at West Point and then going to Mikey Stadium and joining the rest of the new cadets, uh, I think they called us at the time, new cadets, and we set our pledge and, and marched off, but it was, it was a very exciting experience, but I will say.

I honestly didn't know what I was getting myself into because I didn't have a whole lot of prep. I didn't go to the academies in advance. I didn't go to any of the, you know, the, I don't even know if they had like summer sessions where you could go do visitation tours. It was really just a, this is really out of my, Comfort zone here.

And, you know, West Point, great reputation, right? Great education, great leadership school, very, you know, world renowned. I like to say world renowned school for leadership in the world. So it was a leap of faith and, um, that's how I got there. 

[00:05:54] Alisand Osuch: Excellent. Excellent. So it was a long four years in some ways. A good, good four years.

I'm sure you have a lot of memories. Uh, does anything stand out 

[00:06:04] Janet Petro: from your time? I do have a, uh, a ton of memories, and I will say when I look back, I look back very fondly over those four years. Like you said, it was, it was a long four years. I can remember every day sometimes seemed like an eternity. After we graduated and then went out, you know, into the Army, it seemed like, um, wow, thank goodness I'm not back at West Point.

I can now have a lot more freedoms to go out and do things like go to the grocery store, or just go for a run when you wanted, or sleep in late if you wanted. But Favorite memories at West Point? There was a lot of them. I would say, first and foremost, I really appreciated my classmates. I thought our class was, um, like in life.

There were good people, there were bad people, there were supportive people, there were, you know, people who weren't that supportive. But all in all, I felt like we had a really good, you know, our motto, strength is one. 81. Um, I think our motto, um, helped us to think and our classmates was very cohesive, you know, to this day, Alisand.

I mean, how many reunions have you and I go to, have been to, or many reunions, whether it's with the, uh, women in our class or just different company events, you know, we, we've gotten back together over the past 40 plus years. I can't believe it's been 40 plus years already. So. I would say first memory is, um, you know, of our classmates and certainly people like you who, uh, have remained my friend for 40 plus, uh, uh, years and we've kept in touch with.

Other things, um, that I really liked were like the football games. I thought they were super exciting, you know, to go to. uh, hike up to Mikey Stadium and watch, uh, the Army team play, whatever team it was. Of course, the big games, the, uh, Army Navy games were super, super exciting. You know, all fall we focused on it and it was, you know, beat Navy.

And I remember our plebe year was the only year where Army actually beat Navy, um, the whole time we were up there. And it was the best year. That, um, the best year to have that happen because as plebes, you know, at your duties, he's, you know, um, formations, um, going to, uh, all the meals where you had to sit and you had to sit up straight and, um, had the duties at the table.

Well, we got to fall out since we beat Navy as a plebe, we got to fall out for the rest of the year. And I remember how great that was, um, to be able to not have to go through that, uh, that sort of, uh, structure. And do you remember like the pep rallies that we had? Um, You know, the pep rallies that we had, um, in preparation for the, for some of those games, and in particular for the, uh, Navy games, because we would have exchange, uh, students and those poor Navy exchange, uh, cadets that we had really got grief in that, uh, last week leading up to the, uh, Army Navy game, which is coming up, coming up, uh, shortly this year.

The other thing that I remember was Reagan got elected in 1980, and you remember we had the hostages, Iranian hostages, I think there were 52 of them, and I don't know the full story, but one of the first stops that when President Reagan assumed office in Um, 1981, we were seniors, if you recall, the reigning hostages, um, landed, um, and they came and they visited us at West Point.

And I remember being very struck by them walking. They allowed them to come in through the mess hall and the entire class, as I recall, stood up and gave them a standing ovation as those hostages, um, you know, walked through. So I thought that was very memorable. And speaking of President Reagan, he gave our commencement address in May of 1981 at our graduation.

I thought that was very special. I very vividly, uh, remember Nancy Reagan sitting there in the front row. Um, but to go up on stage, get your diploma, and shake President Reagan's hand was really something special. And I think at the time, again, he was a new president, but his legacy over the 40 years has even grown more.

So I look back and think how even more special. It was that I got to shake his hand even before he was a legacy. 

[00:10:05] Alisand Osuch: Excellent. Well, let's fast forward to today. What is your current role, Janet? 

[00:10:09] Janet Petro: I'm the Center Director at the Kennedy Space Center. And, you know, as a Center Director, I liken my role to being like the mayor of a big city.

And I'll start with, um, Kennedy Space Center is one of 10 field centers within NASA's, um, portfolio. Our headquarters is located in Washington, D. C., and we have field centers spread throughout the country. And NASA signs its programs through our mission directorates down to the center. And here at the Kennedy Space Center, we're very privileged to be home to several of the agency's major programs, including the Commercial Crew Program, which transports our astronauts to and from the International Space Station via commercial providers, SpaceX and soon to be flying Boeing.

We're home to the Launch Services Program, which provides services for all of NASA's science payloads. We marry it up with a commercial launch vehicle and provide mission assurance that puts that science payload in the correct orbit to do things, whether it's going around the earth and doing earth science, or we're traveling to Mars and landing a rover on the surface of Mars, all of our science missions, our launch service program, really takes care of them and provides mission assurance.

Um, we also provide last year had Artemis 1 launch and hopefully people saw that either live on TV, uh, in person, or, you know, you can, you know, catch it on YouTube or other events, but it's our, it's the first step in our, in NASA's journey back to the moon and then onto Mars. The whole program is known as Artemis and the first mission we launched here from the Kennedy Space Center, uh, November 16th of last year.

We have a number of other projects. We do a little bit of research and technology, particularly in, in plant research and in some of the in situ resource utilization. We provide all the processing for the payloads that are going up to the International Space Station, the science experiments or the cargo and the resupply up there.

So we have about. 2, 000 civil servants, about I'll say 8, 000 contractors that are all engaged in the work of NASA's mission here on Kennedy Space Center. And I, I get the privilege and honor of leading the workforce out here. There's a lot 

[00:12:26] Alisand Osuch: of West Point grads here at NASA, right? Do you ever run into, uh, 

[00:12:30] Janet Petro: Some of them.

I do, and several of our classmates, uh, Alisand, uh, I worked very closely with, um, Ed Healy for about three years on a, uh, a special assignment. He has since, uh, since retired from NASA, and even just not within NASA, you know, I ran into Heidi Brown, you know, she was, uh, in Missile Defense Agency, so the MDA, Some of her resources were supporting some of our NASA missions.

I run into her, Camille, uh, Nichols is now sitting on the board of Mendham and her company does work out here. And so I'm constantly running into, um, our classmates and, and other, uh, West Point grads. In fact, it's a good network. I mean, it's one of the first things I think when, when I, uh, get to talking with people, if they're from West Point, um, or they know somebody from West Point.

So, um, you know, we have a lot of, uh, discussions about it. Interestingly, um, you know, my former boss, uh, Bob Cabana, was a Naval Academy graduate and he was almost 10 years, exactly 10 years, he graduated in 71, Ali, so we graduated in 81. And so he was 10 years ahead. from the Naval Academy. I was from West Point and, um, my deputy, but then he was the Associate Director, Calvin Manning, was from the Air Force Academy and he graduated in 1981.

So there's like, you know, we have a, a set of common, I think, value, uh, backgrounds, certainly a common set of values. And a lot of teasing goes on with the, uh, Army Air Force game or the Army Navy game. So it's a good, uh, it's a good camaraderie. Great to have so 

[00:14:03] Alisand Osuch: much, uh, Camaraderie with the Academy folks.

So let's talk about West Point again. How did West Point prepare you for your role? 

[00:14:12] Janet Petro: I think West Point was instrumental. I often talk about West Point as being sort of the foundational experience for who I am today. I think, you know, going from high school, I was, uh, uh, 17 years old when I went there. I had a, you know, handful of jobs, but nothing so, um, immersive an experience as going to a place like West Point where, again, it's a very intensive, um, training.

process, there's the academics, there's of course the military training, and of course all the um, stuff we go out in the field and learn to do. But what it did, you know, when you're young and you're 17, you're really not that confident, you really don't know what you can and you can't do. But going to West Point and learning, cooperating, graduate, like nobody did anything on their own.

So, uh, I think learning to be a good team member, and how to work together with other people regardless of, and you know this, we had people come from all over the country, you know, small towns, big cities, we all went and we all had the exact same experience. We all dressed the same, you know, at the time, remember, we all went to the barbershop and got our hair cut in the same way.

We all had the same experience and we, as a class, especially as a Plead, where, you know, there's a process of sort of breaking you down, um, and you learn how to, you know, learn a lot of structure, a lot of discipline. You survived by cooperating together on how to get things done. And so I think that value of learning how to be a good teammate.

A good team member was one of the most important things I learned there. You know, being from a larger family, you learn to work together. But, you know, when you're outside the family and you have to, you have a goal or you have a mission or you have an objective that you want to accomplish, um, it's a lot easier if you and your teammates are on the same page.

So things. Like communication, learning how to communicate clearly, I think that was also instrumental in helping me to get to the role I'm at today. Time management, you know, I don't know, Allie, if you can remember, did we ever get enough sleep during our entire plea of gear? I don't think, you know, crawling under our, what do we call them, the green girls at the time, I don't even know if they call them that anymore, but those, um, you know, the blankets, just to steal a few minutes of, uh, rest, but time management, you know, we, You know, we had, you remember, we had Saturday classes, we had parades, you had to get up and, you know, you're up, whether it's academics and very often late into the night, you were doing your homework, there was always after school, intramural athletics or activities.

So it was a complete full day from beginning to end, but you had to manage all that in order to, you know, get all your homework done, get all our academics done. Of course, there was, um, there was no You know, no, hey, I'm not going to formation today, or hey, I'm just not going to do that today. It was very much, um, very much you had to learn how to manage your time.

And that leads to, I think, resilience. I think a lot of times you don't think you can do something, but when you go through an experience like West Point, and again, you're hand in hand with your teammate, but you do it one step at a time, one day at a time, right? You don't think you can do it, but you know what?

You do do it and you go to sleep and you wake up the next day and you put one foot in front of the other and you do it again. And so I think that resilience, that quality, that characteristic that says, um, that speaks to your inner self that, yeah, I can do this. I can do this. Um, I'm not going to give up, I think, um, was something that was very valuable for me to learn.

Great. So 

[00:17:41] Alisand Osuch: Janet, I know you are a mentor for at least one cadet. Can you talk about that program? 

[00:17:47] Janet Petro: Yeah, I wasn't like an official mentor, but one of the employees we had out here at Kennedy Space Center, her daughter wanted to go to West Point, and she was, I think, in her junior year of high school. She lived in, in your hometown of Titusville, and so she asked if I would talk to her, and of course, I said yes, and so I had a series of discussions with her.

And, um, you know, she was of course asking, um, you know, uh, about my experience and I talked with her about it and she was amazing, you know, she was running marathons, she was, you know, super fit. I remember thinking, boy, she was way more prepared than I was when I went to West Point. But anyways, um, told her about the experience, you know, the good, the bad, the ugly.

You know, what to expect in the process, um, for going through it. And I kept touch with her. She did apply. She did get accepted. And, and she did, uh, end up going to West Point. And for the whole four years that she was on there for every Christmas vacation, summer break or spring break, we would get together and I'd do lunch and kind of check in, how's it going.

And, you know, she'd tell me, you know, her experiences, I will say it was a little bit different experience than that. And she graduated in 2013. So that would have been, she went there and was that 2009, you know, we're in the middle of the, um, Afghanistan war, you know, she would describe that, you know, some of their company mates that had graduated had either went to, you know, fight in those wars.

Some had even. And, you know, when we were going there, we didn't have any wars, so there wasn't like we didn't have that intensity of, hey, when we graduate, we're going to be deployed and we're going to go to war. So I found that very, very interesting. And in fact, I did end up going to her graduation. I went up to her office.

And stayed with another one of our classmates who was actually teaching at West Point at the time, and then attended her, um, graduation in, uh, 2013 and celebrated with her family. So that was super special for me to have been, I think, a small part maybe of mentoring her through that whole West Point experience and the whole West Point 

[00:19:53] Alisand Osuch: process.

I know she appreciated it. Any other inspiration for cadets and any advice that you have? I know you helped her quite a bit and you would certainly give that to anyone who, You know, who you worked with, but, uh, given, you know, today's current situation and also given knowing what you know and what you do, what would you suggest to, uh, 

[00:20:12] Janet Petro: today's cadet?

Yeah, I think there's a lot more programs now than there was when we started there. We were in the second class of women, but I don't even think they had any programs for, um, men, like sort of prep sessions where you could go in the summer and spend a week and kind of get Acclimated, or a little bit, um, some insight into what the life of a cadet is about.

Um, so I would encourage, um, people to try that. I do think West Point has a couple programs like that where you can, you know, at least visit, at least, you know, spend a week there. You know, in the summer and see if it's something that you're really interested in. I think it's very competitive now to get in.

So I think, you know, all the things, you know, about making sure that you are a broader person, that not only are you you know, your academics and your scores really high, but you're doing some sports, you're doing some athletes, you're being the team captain, um, you're participating in clubs at your high school, you're taking leadership positions, because again, I think it's a very highly competitive path to get into these schools, and I think you need to demonstrate that you have the qualities that they are looking for.

Um, so that would be kind of my, uh, kind of advice. There's a lot of grads and a lot of different walks of life, um, some, you know, you know, some still in the military, some in the private industry, some in the federal government. I would talk to as many people as you can just to get their take on their experience and just, again, make sure it's something that you think you'd be interested in doing.

It's not easy, right, Allie? I mean, I would say I don't think it was easy. It's not an easy choice. It's definitely a commitment. I found it to be a very, very worthwhile commitment. And, you know, as I said, I think it was a very foundational experience for me that kind of set me up. For, you know, the rest of my 

[00:22:06] Alisand Osuch: life's journey.

Let's go back and talk about what you did once you graduated. Uh, we know you're an aviator. How did that happen? What inspired you to, to become a pilot? 

[00:22:16] Janet Petro: Well, when I was at West Point, you had to pick kind of your field of study. And I was very interested, probably not knowing a whole lot about, I was always fairly good at math, but not knowing a lot about the different engineering disciplines living down here.

around the space center, having my father work out at Kennedy Space Center was probably kind of the pull that made me look at, hey, maybe I should do aerospace engineering. So most of my classes were in the aerospace engineering field. Then my professors, what they like to do is they were pilots and they like to fly helicopters.

And so I think it was at Fort Stewart. Um, there were take us students and we would do our labs. inside the helicopters on a helicopter flight. And I just thought that was incredible, right? I mean, like, wow, this is super cool. And, you know, I don't remember the specifics, um, but it was, you know, we'd figure out lift and drag and, you know, take our, you know, measurements and fly high, low, different pressures, different altitudes, different velocities.

And then we would do our calculations and those were our labs. And I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. And I thought, wow, if I could do that in the army, if I could be a, um, helicopter pilot. I just thought that was the funnest thing ever and I always enjoyed the stick and flying around in that.

So that was my inspiration and the way it works in terms of what branch you get to go into and what location is, it depends on your class rank. And so fortunately I was high enough to be able to pick a branch. At the time, aviation wasn't its own branch. I had to pick transportation, but then go to flight school and then aviation became a branch.

So I went over, but I was fortunate. I was high enough. And then I was deployed to Germany, which again, I thought for a young person, you, I wanted to see more of the world and Germany at the time there was, uh, of course, uh, 81, the wall was still up, you know, there was an East Europe and a Western Europe, you know, separated by a wall.

And so that's where. I guess the action was, uh, in terms of, uh, the cold war and the, and the tensions, uh, uh, within the world. So I was deployed to Germany, which is where I spent, um, spent most of my time. I, not only did I enjoy. Uh, flying over there, I got a, uh, uh, in country transition to, uh, another type of helicopter, an OH 58, which I really enjoyed flying around.

I was a maintenance officer, so I got stationed at a couple different places. Again, really great memories of, um, we had reforger exercises where we would go to the field for, if I remember, somewhere between three weeks and a month. And, um, again, we had different units come in and we practiced, um, exercises, you know, in the event that You know, the Soviet Union was coming over the Folda Gap.

That was our war, I guess, war strategy, uh, uh, if you will, at the time. And so those are, those are all great memories. Uh, you know, and I got to go around Europe, you know, got to tour all around Europe and going many, many times on, on weekends and holidays all across Europe. So I thought it was a really great experience and, um, a good thing.

But the other thing I wanted to say was some of my professors went on to become astronauts. So Jim Adamson. He was one of my professors, and he actually lives here in the area in Orlando now, but he was my professor, and I can't remember the exact mission he was on, but he was a mission specialist. I've run into him several times over the past, you know, 15 years or so, and Jim Voss was the other one, another one of my instructors that went on to become an astronaut as well.

They weren't pilots, but they were mission specialists and I ran into him, uh, he worked for a company that I, that we worked with, uh, at NASA and I ran into him and that's, it's like super cool. It's like, what, 35 years later and it's like, do you remember me being your student? And, uh, it was, it was super funny, uh, because of course, you know, you remember your professor and so on.

But. That was my inspiration and that's why I decided that, uh, flying helicopters was, uh, was what I wanted to do 

[00:26:19] Alisand Osuch: in the Army. Well, Janet, I understand that you still get up and fly and there's a great, uh, video that we need to go, uh, take a look at. Those of us who, um, who know you well and even those who don't and should, can you talk about that, um, flight you took?

[00:26:36] Janet Petro: Yeah, absolutely. So we have, um, three Airbus, uh, 135 helicopters here, brand new. They're beautiful. They are such a different, um, machine than what I learned to fly on. Um, you know, if you recall back in the 80s, we didn't have GPS yet. So, um, the whole navigation system was very, very different. Today they have GPS and it's, everything's automated.

It's just a different vehicle altogether. But we have three here at the Kennedy Space Center. They support our missions. They support our, um, crew rescue mission, and they also support crew rescue, meaning in the event that something ever happened at the pad and one of our astronauts needed to be evacuated to a hospital really quickly, they train and they have, um, the equipment to get that crew member out and to the emergency, uh, emergency services.

Um, and the second mission they have is, um, security. And so we have a, uh, Kennedy Space Center's, uh, So, the largest center in NASA's portfolio. We have something like 140, 000 acres, uh, and so the helicopters do fly a lot of security missions. They'll fly security missions for launches, but also just around our, uh, our property to ensure that, you know, that we have good, uh, security within our property boundaries.

So I get to go fly with them, you know, whenever, whenever, I'd love to do it every day, but of course I can't. But occasionally I'll get to, uh, go fly, uh, up on the helicopters and they will give me the sticks. So I do get, uh, Transcribed by https: otter. ai I do get a fly around, but my great comm team here had an idea for our community leaders briefing.

So every year we put together, um, we used to do it in person, but then COVID hit and we decided to make a video and it turned out. A lot of people like the video format better because it didn't mean they'd have to drive out here if it was on a certain day, etc. So doing a video, um, got to a much broader audience.

And so my comm team said, Hey, why don't we this year, instead of just doing a, you know, a video where you're talking, you're describing all the things that's going on at Kennedy Space Center, the milestones. that we achieved this year and what we're looking at next year. Why don't we do it in a helicopter and we can go around the center and kind of talk about center from the air.

And, um, so we did that. And I think it was a big hit. I, of course, loved making the video. It's one of my favorite videos ever. I like to play it a lot. I think it's available on YouTube. That's 

[00:29:00] Alisand Osuch: great. I really am looking forward to, uh, So, we are jumping around here a little bit, but let's go back to your time at West Point.

Again, you were a good cadet, I have to say that, and um, a model cadet, um, I was talking to some of your folks here and just mentioning that one thing where you stood out above many others is that you were so organized. You just did things that you had to get done, but you also had fun too. And I kind of think that's what's going on here.

So, for being here now for Well, a few hours now with your folks, they're very competent people and they seem to be having a lot of fun. So back to advice for cadets or inspiration for people in general. You obviously have a very serious mission here. This is very important work that you're doing. What do you have to say about how you approach your work?

[00:29:50] Janet Petro: Yeah, so, so it is very serious and it is very important, but I also think that people who are under stress or tense all the time probably aren't being their most productive. I have a philosophy that, you know, we're going to be here, we're going to do these things, but we're going to make them fun as well.

And I'm not talking about, you know, sitting on a launch console and you're monitoring a screen or a specific system or something like that. But we have to go through and do a whole bunch of stuff. Why not make it fun too? I think people become more engaged when they're having fun. So I really lean forward to, um, you know, have my team and I have it, like I said, I have an extremely.

Awesome, amazing, creative staff and team and I'll say workforce out here as well, um, that are highly motivated to go above and beyond and to make things, um, even better than they ever were. And so there's all, it gets a creative juices flowing and when we think about what is it we can do that'll be fun, that'll engage more people to get them, you know, to the table to participate.

And I think we've done really well. With that, you know, NASA was ranked the number one best places to work in the federal government by the Partnership for Public Service for 11 years in a row. And for the last five, the Kennedy Space Center has been ranked the number one center. of all the centers uh, in NASA agencies.

So I think that speaks volumes in terms of, you know, when people are rating and it's the employees that fill out these surveys, um, when they're the ones that fill them out and they're ranking us as the best places to work. I think that says a lot about The work that we do out here, the meaningful work that we do out here, but we have fun while we're doing it as well.

Clearly, I think we have the coolest mission ever, right? So, uh, and clearly we have an extremely motivated and dedicated workforce who wants to achieve that mission. But I think we have fun. We have a lot of, um, respect for each other. I think we have a very Good environment out here where, you know, people again, we're more together than we are individually.

So it's like a family, a team environment. And so I think that all contributes to the successes that we've had. And we have fun doing 

[00:32:09] Alisand Osuch: it. We are obviously an outstanding leader and attending the graduation ceremony today for your leadership program. I had the opportunity to hear your speech. Your presentation, and I just loved the example that you gave of how every individual has an important role.

Can you share that one 

[00:32:29] Janet Petro: with us again? Every individual has a role to making the place, um, better, better than you left it, was one of the quotes that was said, but the leadership program, you know, is for, I call them the future leaders of the Kennedy Space Center, because, you know, people our age, we're not going to be here forever, and the next generation, and so we're building on that That team, that leadership team to take over and lead the center into the future.

And so, you know, inspiring and telling them that the future is yours. Uh, the future is yours. And as an individual, you can contribute to that future by stepping up to the plate, by being that leader, by leaving. Every job, every task better than, you know, every place you go to better, better than, uh, when you first came for.

And everybody can contribute something. And so, you know, encouraging that individuals to think and to own, you know, their actions and own the future of KSC and own their contribution to it. I also talked a lot, and I do this a lot, uh, in my talks, um, because I do think it's, it's sort of became my. Personal motto about, um, duty, honor, country, you know, MacArthur's famous farewell speech, uh, you know, at West Point.

And each of those qualities, if you will, values, duty, honor, country, means more than just the word and the context in which it's used in the military. So, you know, duty, you know, doing your job. Beyond your duty in the military, but how do you, how do you excel? How do you make your team excel? How do you not let your teammates down by making sure that they can depend on you to get the job done?

You will have their back just as they will have your back. And then, you know, in honor, it's more than just about, you know, telling the truth. It's, uh, there's an integrity. You want people to trust you, to trust your word. And to do that, you have to be, you have to act. Act and speak honorably all of the time.

And then country, you know, it's not just about the United States of America and the nation, but it's about the community that you live in. It's your family. It's your work team. Uh, it's your company. It's your organization. It's what can you do? There are things. Bigger and better than yourself. So it's not just about what you as an individual want, it's about what can you give to the community and to the country to benefit, um, them all.

Sort of like the namesake here, John F. Kennedy, you know, ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country? Kind of is that, uh, mantra rolled into one. But I use those three words, I use that motto quite a bit when I have to go around and speaking engagements. And again, that's something I really got directly, uh, from West Point, resonated with me and has stayed with me through my entire career.


[00:35:13] Alisand Osuch: gave an example too earlier today about the importance of each individual doing their very best. There was a planning scenario. Is the name Arturo ringing a bell here? 

[00:35:25] Janet Petro: Yeah, so, um, during Apollo 13, and everybody probably remembers, um, that mission, that was the one that, um, had the, um, explosion on it, and the, and we almost lost the, uh, vehicle with the three astronauts in it, and they had to end up coming home to Earth, but they, uh, there was an explosion in the, um, command and service module as they were making their way to the moon.

And, um, there was a team of engineers led by a guy named Arturus. Campos. And probably about a year or so before that mission, him and his team was responsible for looking at all kinds of contingencies, the sort of what if, let's do some planning for what if something bad happens on the way, what can we do?

So, you know, you never know what's going to happen. But him and his team did an extensive look at all the contingency planning. for if bad things happen on this mission on its way to the moon. And you hope this never happens and you never may see the result of the work that you do. But he worked and he inspired his team to make sure they went and went down every single subsystem and component and figured out what it is that we would do in the event of something bad happening.

And Apollo 13 demonstrated that. And all of the work that Arturo Campos and his team had done was put into place. He was called in during the Apollo 13 incident when it happened. And so his work paid off and he saved the lives of the three astronaut crew members. So the, the message was, you may be working on a product that you think will never be used, that nobody will ever see.

It may not seem important at the moment, but do your best at it because. It might save the life, or it might be used in the event of something happening that you can't even anticipate today. So always do your best. That was kind of the message there. This is 

[00:37:22] Alisand Osuch: not the forum to ask you to give us a summary of what's going on in NASA or Kennedy Space Center, but can you talk about just one or more of the next greatest things that we will see from 

[00:37:34] Janet Petro: NASA?

Comes to mind, I think it should be on everyone's, uh, uh, radar and mind is, um, I talked about the Artemis 1 launch last year. Uh, it was uncrewed and it went around the moon and our broader moon to Mars program called Artemis is NASA going back to the moon. You know, we went during Apollo, but this time we're gonna go and we're gonna Stay and we're going to really, um, explore and get science, uh, do some science on the surface of the moon.

And then step by step, we're going to make our way out to Mars. And so next, um, next mission, Artemis II, we're putting four crew members on it. And so. There was a tremendous, uh, amount of excitement about Artemis 1, it's the world's most powerful rocket. Again, when, it's a 26 day mission, went around the moon.

Artemis 2 is going to have four crew members. Again, it's going to go around the moon again. It's going to be, uh, really, really special. And that'll be the First time humans have been in deep space since the last Apollo mission. And so it's super exciting. Artemis one captured the attention of the world.

They were viewing sites all over the world. And so I think the next step of putting humans on a crew, a crew on it. And by the way, the crew is an international crew. We have a Canadian on there. Um, going back around the moon in deep space is going to be very, very exciting. And so that's, that's going to be the next step.

We get humans on it, and then we're going to land humans on the moon, uh, in Artemis III. So that's kind of, I would say, the next really, really big thing for, especially for human spaceflight, uh, at NASA. As you suggested, there's a ton more things that we're doing. Not just in, you know, in human spaceflight and our exploration, but also in our science missions, in our aeronautics missions, in our technology developments.

Um, across the board, we're doing an awful lot, but that Artemis 2 will be the next big thing. So 

[00:39:34] Alisand Osuch: I also noticed there's a lot of competition now. You've got so many different, uh, contractors there. They have really expanded the Kennedy Space Center footprint. And you've gotten to meet quite a few of the folks that have led these companies.

Have you met Elon Musk or Jeff 

[00:39:54] Janet Petro: Bezos? Yes. The answer to both is yes. And we call them, Alison, we call them partners because they are a partner. Helping us to achieve many of our missions that we are undertaking now. So they're not, they're not necessarily, they're not a competitor. They are a partner. Um, but yes, I met Jeff Bezos and I had the privilege of spending, um, about two hours, uh, with Elon Musk down at his site in Boca Chica, where they are developing the, the Starship vehicle.

And that's going to be super exciting because that Starship vehicle is going to be the one that Is part of our human landing system program, and it'll be landing our astronauts on the surface of the moon. So SpaceX is developing the Starship for that. But the two hours, uh, you know, Boca Chica, you can go look at the YouTubes.

They just had their second, uh, test flight down there. Um, this was probably about a year and a half ago, and, uh, had the occasion, uh, myself and two of my other. Colleague center directors were down, um, there to tour the facilities. Um, they happen to be stacking, uh, the super heavy booster and the starship, uh, that day.

So that was very cool, but we got to eat dinner with Elon. So I was just sitting across the table, uh, with Elon for about two hours. And I was just, um, first of all, I would say it was one of the most fascinating conversations in my entire life. And I was just. Peppering him with questions about, because I really just wanted to understand, you know, he's a very big thinker.

Obviously, everyone says he's probably one of the most top innovators or entrepreneurs of our generation. I was peppering him with all kinds of questions about, you know, what does he, what did he, uh, what does he think about China and what motivates him and, and, and, you know, what, what's the motivation for his, um, vision for SpaceX.

One of the most interesting questions, and I actually ended up bringing it back to my senior leadership team here at the Kennedy Space Center, because I found it that powerful, I was asking about China, he had went over, he had been asked by the number two Chinese strategy person to go over there and talk to China about innovation, and specifically China wanted to They wanted to understand how come America is so much more innovative than the Chinese.

Like, you know, a lot of innovations come out of America. You know, we tend to lead the world in a lot of, a lot of technologies. And so, him being one of the top ones, I called him over. They're like, hey, how come Americans are so much more, um, innovative? And, uh, and you know what he told me? And I found this fascinating.

He, uh, he said, because they challenge authority. And just think about that. Challenge authority. You know, from, from the start of our country, right, where we had a revolution against, uh, King George, you know, where we wanted, America wanted to make its own way. But to, we challenge things, you know, we don't just accept things and the, um, way of the Chinese people, you know, and the communists and the way that country's run, I don't think you get very far if you challenge that authority.

But here in America, we do allow that, obviously, you know, with our Constitutional Bill of Rights, our culture and our society that we have today. So that challenging authority I thought was a very powerful, um, statement. And like I said, I brought that back to my senior leadership team and asked them to, or challenged them, I would say, Hey, if we are going to remain leaders of the agency of the space industry, we've got to, we've got to continue to challenge.

authority, challenge requirements, challenge the way we're doing, um, things so that we're always getting better and being more effective and efficient rather than just doing the same thing over and over or doing, you know, what somebody's telling us to do. So that was, uh, kind of a, a way of, of asking my team to, to get creative, but it was a fascinating conversation.

Uh, with him, it's, it's one I'll, I'll, I'll never forget. Another way that 

[00:43:51] Alisand Osuch: you stand out among the, uh, billions, so many people and, uh, you actually got to sit down with, uh, Elon Musk and, and frankly, he got to sit down with you. He got to sit down with you too. 

[00:44:04] Janet Petro: He's a fascinating, fascinating person. He really is.

You know, like him or not like his personality, he's arguably, you know, one of the most successful, obviously entrepreneurs and the companies he's built is leading the markets, whether it's, you know, SpaceX or Tesla. He really is a, um, a top leader. Fascinating to talk to and hear about his philosophy and his Well, those who 

[00:44:26] Alisand Osuch: know you, know you to be a very humble person, but I'll just throw this out too.

You are in the new 

[00:44:30] Janet Petro: book. Yeah, the evening that we had dinner with him, the biographer, famous biographer, Walt Isaacson was there too and apparently has this arrangement with Elon where periodically, uh, X number of days a month he follows him around or whatever. And he happened to be there that evening.

So, yeah, I did get mentioned in Walt Isaacson's book, which is called So we mentioned Jeff 

[00:44:51] Alisand Osuch: Bezos too. A lot more coming, you know, for Blue Origin here soon. 

[00:44:57] Janet Petro: For sure. He, you know, I met him, probably met him two or three times a couple of years back, not in the same sort of Intimate setting that I was with more with, uh, Elon and just a couple people more in a larger group, uh, gathering.

But both SpaceX and, uh, Blue Origin have built their really some, uh, pretty impressive campuses, uh, on our property. And again, it was part of the transformation of the Kennedy Space Center from being just a single, you know, focused on government and hosting just government, but at the end of the shuttle program, we purposefully looked out and said, Hey, Are there commercial companies who would be interested in our facilities?

Our assets are relocating here, and we're in a great, obviously, a great geographical location, uh, we kind of are the center of the vertical launch industry here, and so many of the commercial companies have relocated their location Some of their manufacturing and their processing and, and obviously their launch facilities to be closer here to the Space Coast.

In fact, several of our NASA programs are doing that as well, relocating their processing operations closer, closer I say to the launch head because it's just more efficient. Um, there's, um, you can use the same workforce, um, but you're closer. You don't have those, uh, huge transporting across the country, you know, a spacecraft or a launch vehicle or, or whatever, it's just more efficient to have it here.

But we've completely transformed. I like to say, Kennedy Space Center looks nothing, it's not my father's Kennedy Space Center, it looks nothing like it did even 10 years ago. I mean, we are a thriving, a robust, a vibrant spaceport. And there are many companies and partners operating on our property, and they are Fulfilling our missions, uh, you know, through contracts with us, as well as the commercial industry and other, uh, international partners as well.

It's a big difference. I like to say my dad was part of the Apollo generation. I'm part of the Artemis generation. 

[00:46:56] Alisand Osuch: So Janet, did you ever aspire to be an astronaut and why or why not did you 

[00:47:01] Janet Petro: do it? You know, I'm at the end of my career now. So looking back, you know, going through high school, I didn't. Think about being an astronaut, you know, at the time, remember, women, there were not, there were not women astronauts and, you know, when we were in the army, there were many of the, um, specialties and positions and assignments that were closed to women, uh, you know, you simply couldn't, you know, you couldn't become a test pilot.

I couldn't fly in an attack helicopter, for example, my buddy was in an attack helicopter, I think there were, there were, uh, Cobras at the time and I wanted to fly in it. It's like, Women aren't allowed. And because it was an attack helicopter, we could only be in the combat support units. Now, I know that all changed in the 90s.

So there wasn't role models. You know, I couldn't look up and see myself in that role. I just didn't imagine it. I was, you know, Busy learning how to fly helicopters, and I was stationed over in Germany where nobody reached out and said, Hey, there's an astronaut call. Is that be something you'd be interested in?

Go ahead and submit your name. That just didn't happen back then. But then, you know, life goes on. And I remember Sally Ride when she took her first flight in 1983. That was pretty special. You know, she was a mission specialist. She was a PhD in her field. And, you know, the first woman in space, which was amazing.

I remember my father talking about it, uh, and a couple of the other, um, first women, but I was, I was over in Germany. And then when I came back, I was an engineer. And so I was, you know, I had. Kids, I never really thought about it after that. I never really thought about it after that. But in hindsight, reflecting back, I think I wasn't born at the right time.

You know, if I'd been born 10 years later and there was, you know, there was the internet and there was different opportunities, um, that probably would have been something that I, I really would have liked to do. I'd still love to go to space, but astronauts, uh, you know, are generally. much younger and they're looking for the astronauts for Mars and I'm probably not going to make that.


[00:48:57] Alisand Osuch: you might be one of the first class of 81 people to go into space. 

[00:49:04] Janet Petro: Well, you know, there's several, several, several, uh, West Point astronauts. There's several. I remember Jeff Williams. I remember Pat Forrester who's still, Pat Forrester is still with NASA. Frank Rubio, you know, he just, uh, came back, uh, with the, uh, record for the, uh, longest duration, uh, in space.

Uh, I can't remember, it was, uh, something like 371 days was his first flight. Annie McClain, I got to talk and meet, uh, Annie several times. She was also a helicopter pilot. I'm sure I'm missing many, but there's a number of West Pointers who are, uh, astronauts as well. I wish the Army would encourage more of it, actually, uh, because I I think our numbers compared to the Navy and the Air Force are way down and, you know, love to see more Army people getting in space.

So you 

[00:49:53] Alisand Osuch: have been a role model and a leader, obviously, and continue to do that in your role today. Who did you have for mentors? or otherwise, as you were coming up. 

[00:50:06] Janet Petro: First and foremost, I think, uh, you know, my dad and my dad is no longer with us. He passed away in 1986, but I just remember, you know, I mean, your dad is probably not what you'd call your mentor, but I took a lot of lessons from him and values from him.

Um, and I, cause I remember I, he worked so hard, but he was always there for. Our sporting events, but he was nights, weekends, you know, uh, working because it was the early days of the space program. And we were trying to be the first ones to get to set foot on the moon in the Cold War, in the space race. So there was, there was tremendous pressure.

And so I just admired, he instilled in us and, uh, you know, work. He instilled in us and I really took away work value. I remember him, uh, you know, saying, don't do anything half. You know, he was like, do it well, do everything you do, do it well, and work hard, like you can do anything, but you have to work hard, uh, and be competent at it.

And then I would say, you know, I had various, um, professors, like I talked about, you know, at West Point who would encourage me to, you know, I remember one, my math professor, you know, he said, you know, you're really good at math and you really ought to, you know, You know, you really want to meet a major in math, but very, very, uh, very, very encouraging.

Um, and then through my, you know, private industry experience and, and here in the federal government, I've had a number of people who have, you know, taken the time to, you know, I've asked for advice. To sit down and tell me either, you know, everything from, Hey, this is a job you should take, you can do this job, you know, get out of your comfort zone.

You can do this job. You're ready for it. Take that next step to things like, Hey, here's the politics. Like here's the office politics. You don't want to do this because of this and this. So I, I think there's a, uh, a large number of them. I certainly. Never met, but like admired people like, you know, Sally Ride, who I thought, you know, being a, being a first was something really, really special.

So, a number of mentors and people who have influenced me over the years. I remember 

[00:52:10] Alisand Osuch: talking with you on the phone about a movie that was about to come out. The book was out and I think they were making a movie about it called Hidden Figures. Do you want to talk about that experience? 

[00:52:20] Janet Petro: Yeah, so I read the book and I also saw the movie and I also had the privilege of that entire cast, along with like Pharrell, Octavia Spencer, I'm going to forget like, cause it was about eight years ago, I think, um, the whole cast come out here.

And we got to tour them around and then I also got to moderate a panel with them for our employee workforce out at our, um, Kennedy Space Center, uh, Visitor Center. And it was just amazing. So the, the premise of the book, Hidden Figures, is, you know, in the early days of the space program at Langley Research Center up in Virginia, they had Women who could do math and women of color, and they called them human computers.

So at the time there wasn't computers, so you needed, um, people to, you know, people who were good at math to figure out all these equations, you know, the orbital mechanics, etc., etc. And so this was the story of those women, those human computers at the time, dealing in a world where they didn't have women's bathrooms, there was a lot of, uh, constraints and barriers for them for their You know, for their advancement, their promotion opportunities.

And so it was a good story about, you know, women, African American women, and, um, how they overcame the barriers and really contributed to our space program so much so that we, um, I didn't know anything about that story, right? Unless. Like until, you know, something comes out in a book or a movie, you don't really know that piece of history.

But we did end up changing the street name where our headquarters, NASA headquarters is located up in D. C. to, to Hidden Figures Way. It was quite a nod to those people who persevered during that, uh, difficult time and really contributed to the mission of the, uh, agency. And it was just super special. I'm meeting these movie stars.

They were, they were wonderful. They were absolutely wonderful. 

[00:54:11] Alisand Osuch: Janet, thank you so much for participating in this AOG podcast. It's great to hear, you know, your story and you're still in this story. This is amazing. So we're so proud of you, not just our class, Class of 81, but grads everywhere and people everywhere because you're just amazing. So again, Thank you. This has been fun. And, uh, I'll just leave you with this. Go Army! 

[00:54:36] Janet Petro: Beat Navy! And thank you, Alisand, for, uh, moderating and hosting, uh, this podcast. I really appreciate you, uh, doing this. I appreciate it. And yes, uh, we could say that again. Go Army! Beat Navy! 

[00:54:51] Narrator: Thank you for listening to the WPAOG Broadcast Network. Please take a moment to rate and review the show and join us each week for a new episode. Thank you for listening.