Last week, we lost a fantastic person, Dr. Pedro “Pete” Rustan, to cancer. Pete is renowned in the space industry for being, as he liked to say, a “change agent.” Pete’s story is legendary (see his bio below). When I think of Pete, I think of an individual who continually pushed the envelope, someone who had the courage to try and fail. In his Aviation Week & Space Technology
article, “Failure is Good,” Pete encouraged our industry to stop accepting safe, incremental change. Instead, he advocated driving for bold, quantum changes and understanding that failure is not
a disaster. Last November, Pete gave a keynote speech at our Classified Regional User Group Meeting. (BTW, he did this on his way to Dulles Airport to fly to the Mayo Clinic to receive chemotherapy treatment!) He ended his talk with this mandate to the audience:
"You are all change agents in the Intelligence Community. It’s your responsibility to force change on a system that won’t want it. Your first approach should be the front door, but if your polite knocks go unanswered go to the back door. If you can’t get in the back door, try the side door. If that doesn’t work try to climb through the bathroom window. If you can’t get in the bathroom window kick a hole through the wall. Whatever you do, don’t give up until you have pulled the community forward."
To me, this attitude is inspiring, and one that I hope we can all continue to drive toward on his behalf. Thank you Pete for all you have done for me, for America and for the world.
Born in Guantanamo City, Cuba, he left at age 19 by sneaking through Cuban military checkpoints and swimming a mile across Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. Naval Station. He was making waves, literally, from the start.
Drafted into the Air Force, he stayed for a 26-year career, running several advanced technology space programs and serving as mission manager for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization’s Clementine mission. When he retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel, he consulted for companies pioneering low-Earth orbit satellite communications. After 9/11, he returned to the NRO, where he served in various positions, most recently as the director of their Mission Support Directorate until his official retirement in 2011.
One of his many incredible achievements was technology that improved the accuracy of measuring the location of ground-based radio frequency signals from space and aircraft. These advances were used to spectacular effect in 2011 during the successful mission to locate and kill Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Pete has authored more than 60 public technical papers and articles, was elected a fellow by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and last March, was honored by Aviation Week & Space Technology
with the Philip J. Klass Lifetime Achievement Award.