Pedro "Pete" Rustan: In Memoriam

Pedro "Pete" Rustan: In Memoriam

Pedro “Pete” Rustan died yesterday after a long battle with cancer.   He was renowned in the space business for his determination and innovative ideas, such as the Clementine satellite that orbited the moon in the early 1990s.  A lifetime achievement award from Aviation Week & Space Technology earlier this year called him a “renaissance man.”

Rustan escaped to the United States from Cuba at the age of 19.  He spent 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, and perhaps his best known achievement during that phase of his career was Clementine.   A joint project between NASA and the Missile Defense Agency, one goal was to demonstrate that a small satellite could be built and launched quickly at a comparatively low cost.  The probe was built in just 22 months for $80 million. Although it did not accomplish all of its objectives, the data it returned about the possibility of water at the Moon’s south pole catalyzed interest in renewed study of Earth’s closest neighbor that continues to this day.

Rustan retired from the Air Force in 1997 and did consulting, but returned to the government after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Working at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites, Rustan is credited with significantly improving U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.  

Aviation Week published an extended tribute to him in March when awarding him its lifetime achievement award that included the following paragraph, which captures who he was:

“In addition to Rustan’s many technical achievements he has tirelessly challenged bureaucracy and business as usual.  ‘If someone doesn’t answer the front door, go to the back door,’ he likes to say.  ‘If they don’t open the back door, climb through the window.  And if the window is locked, tear a hole through the wall.’  Such brashness has earned him both admirers and critics in the government’s insular black world.”

Visitation will be at the Mountcastle Funeral Home, 4143 Dale Blvd., Dale City, VA from 3:00-5:00 pm and 7:00-9:00 pm on July 5.  Funeral services are on Friday, July 6, at 11:00 am at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 12975 Purcell Rd., Manassas, VA.  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to Capital Care Hospice, Memorial Sloan Kettering, or Our Lady of Charity of Cobre Foundation, P.O. Box 40368, Glen Oaks, NY, 11004.


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