Services for Patti Grace Smith Scheduled for Monday, June 13, 2016

Services for Patti Grace Smith Scheduled for Monday, June 13, 2016

Services for Patti Grace Smith will be held in Washington, DC on Monday, June 13. One of the most prominent members of the space policy community, Smith died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday, June 5, though only her inner circle knew that she was ill.  She was 68.

Smith – or just “Patti” as most in the space community called her — had a sterling career in space policy. Saying that she was widely admired and respected may seem trite, but truer words were never spoken.

Patricia (Patti) Grace Smith.  Photo credit: Secure World Foundation.

Patti had a successful career in the communications industry before becoming head of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). She held positions in the private sector (National Association of Broadcasters, Westinghouse Broadcast Corporation, and Sheridan Radio Network) and the government (Federal Communications Commission; Department of Defense; Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.)

During her years at AST (1995-2008), she was a fervent supporter of commercial space activities.  Her calm, firm, articulate advocacy for commercial space and the companies that AST facilitated and regulated was legendary.   She led AST as it implemented the 2004 amendments to the Commercial Space Transportation Act that guide the commercial human space flight business, granted a license for the SpaceShipOne flight that garnered the X-Prize, and made Mojave Air and Spaceport the first inland commercial spaceport.

After leaving FAA, she became a consultant to and Board member of a number of space companies and organizations. She chaired the Commercial Space Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) from 2009-2013, and President Obama appointed her to the advisory board of the National Air and Space Museum in 2012.  She became vice-chair of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2014, and was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Secure World Foundation (SWF).

ASEB Director Michael Moloney said via email that “As vice chair of ASEB, Patti made countless important contributions to the role of the Board in advising our nation’s government and aerospace community.  We will miss her extensive expertise and her guiding words, but most of all we will miss her friendship and her welcoming spirit.”

SWF Executive Director Michael Simpson emailed from an SWF-sponsored Space Security Conference in Prague that “Patti’s calm insight and clear thinking opened a door to space entrepreneurship and may yet have a lasting impact on the regulatory process itself….Her loss would be so much worse had she not done so much to mentor those she has left behind.”   He added that participants at the conference “paused for a moment of reflection in her memory.”

Jim Muncy, himself a legend in commercial space policy circles, tweeted his reaction to the news:

Patti’s spirit and enthusiasm are immortalized in this YouTube video of a speech she gave in 2013 to the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. 

A “home-going” service will be held on Monday at 11:00 am ET at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church, 1615 3rd St. NW, Washington, DC.

According to the New York Times, she is survived by her husband, John Clay Smith, three sons, a daughter, 12 grandchildren, and a sister.

This article was updated to add the comments by Michael Simpson.

Note:  Articles about Patti’s passing refer to her as serving as the first head of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which is correct.  Previously, regulation of commercial space transportation was part of the Secretary of Transportation’s office.  It was moved to the FAA in 1995.  The Department of Transportation was designated as the entity to facilitate and regulate commercial space launches in a 1983 Executive Order, followed by the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act.

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