CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (FNN) – Janet Petro made history in April of 2007 when she became the first female Deputy Director of Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
Janet was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1960 and moved to Satellite Beach, Florida in 1962 when her father, who worked for Chrysler Corporation, was transferred to Florida to work at the space center. Having grown up around NASA and the space program, she naturally gravitated to aeronautics and aerospace as a career path. She also wanted to be an engineer like her dad.
President Gerald Ford opened up the military academies to women in 1975, and Janet was in only the second class to have female cadets. She pursued a degree in engineering and said one reason she picked West Point was that she would be able to continue to play sports while she was there.
In a recent phone interview with Florida National News, Petro said that her time there was “the most foundational years of her life,” teaching her leadership and teamwork, and that the Army had done a good job preparing the upperclassmen and instructors for opening the academy to women. She said that bad behavior was not tolerated and although some let it be known that they didn’t think women belonged there, it was a good experience overall. Petro still remains close to her classmates, who supported her then and now.
In 1981, Petro graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and began her career as an active duty commissioned officer in the United States Army, flying helicopters in Germany. Janet, however, wanted to be an engineer like her father, so after a very difficult decision, she left the Army to do just that.
Petro also holds a Master of Science in Business Administration from Boston University’s Metropolitan College.
Petro’s first job outside the military was with McDonald Douglas working on classified payloads for the Department of Defense where she met Bill Parsons, who would later become Director of Kennedy Space Center. She would hold several more engineering jobs before applying to become Deputy Director of the space center in April 2007.
When asked about becoming the first woman to hold the position of Deputy Director at KSC she said that the hardest part was coming in and not knowing the people there. Petro said that at KSC most everyone who works there started early in their careers and hardly ever leave, so coming in as the Deputy Director and basically an outsider was difficult.
In those days, KSC revolved around the space shuttle, but everyone knew that the shuttle program would be coming to an end and what drew her to the job was being part of the team that would lead the change for KSC to become a multi-user spaceport. That too was something difficult for those working there to accept, because in their minds only NASA could build and launch rockets or put astronauts in space. They did not understand the concept of commercial companies being able to do that.
Petro led the effort with the FAA and the United States Air Force to streamline governmental processes and support commercial space operations, to increase governmental efficiency and limit redundancy as KSC moved toward becoming a multi-user spaceport.
Janet served a 12-month appointment at NASA headquarters in Washington DC as the Deputy Associate Administrator and acting Director for the office of Evaluation. From 2017 to January 2020, she served as the Program Executive leading the phased implementation to restructure all mission-enabling functions to ensure efficient and effective support of all NASA missions at KSC.
Petro helped lead the senior management team that was awarded the 2019 Samual J. Heyman Service to America Sammies Management Excellence Medal. She has also earned the President’s Distinguished Executive Award and the astronaut-selected Silver Snoopy Award for Outstanding Performance for contributing to flight safety and mission success. Janet was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.
Petro says that it is an exciting time to be working at KSC and NASA and she is very grateful to have the opportunity to see the space center grow and change. Today, KSC operates with 90 commercial partnerships and has an average of one or two launches a week. She said that Space X will be launching its Crew II mission in late April and that NASA’s Artemis I, which will take the first women to the moon, is one target for a launch date in November of 2021.
Petro continues to lead the way for women at KSC by being the Executive Champion for the Kennedy Networking Opportunities for Women and is leading the way forward for the space center as Chair of the Kennedy Partnership Board.