We download every single picture we take. Whether it’s good, bad, indifferent or ugly, we download it to NASA and they keep it
Donald Pettit, astronaut and photographer
hen growing up in Oregon, Don Pettit loved taking
pictures. He even used photography to help with his high school studies, and later when completing his PhD in chemical engineering. But taking pictures in space was just a dream until he decided to fill in an application to join NASA. That’s when his career really went into orbit…
As a child, did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?
Yes and no. When I was a kid I saw [pioneering astronaut] John Glenn go up and I thought, ‘Wow! That’s really neat’, but then I got absorbed into science, math and engineering, and I didn’t think it was something that I could do until I graduated with my PhD in chemical engineering. I then thought, ‘Hey, I could do this’, and it just so happened that NASA was recruiting, so I put in an application.
You became an astronaut in 1996. What place did photography have in your life?
Well, photography has been a mainstay in my life. When I was a little kid, maybe six or seven, I had a Brownie camera. I started using 127 film and I could only afford black-and-white, and I did all my own development and printing. I just loved photography. I graduated through a series of old film cameras and I would always do my own darkroom work. Any place that I happened to be or whatever project I was doing, I would always illustrate it with photographs, so it’s been a life-long passion.
How were you able to use photography for your technical studies?
I started to get into technical photography at high school, where I’d take pictures through microscopes and through telescopes; I did astrophotography as an amateur astronomer. At college I had the opportunity to do technical photography for the chemical engineering department, so I’ve always figured out how to bring photography into whatever mode of living I happen to be doing.