Patti Grace Smith, Champion of Private Space Travel, Dies at 68: The New York Times
In an email, Elon Musk, the PayPal and Tesla entrepreneur who founded SpaceX, a company that has developed launch vehicles, wrote that Ms. Smith had “helped lay the foundations for a new era in American spaceflight.”
“We are closer to becoming a multiplanet species because of her efforts,” he added.
Ms. Smith believed it was important to build an unambiguous regulatory framework in which business could flourish.
“She would tell you that the role of writing laws and regulations is every bit as important to space travel as the rocket itself,” said James A. M. Muncy, founder of the space policy consulting firm PoliSpace.
The agency’s primary goal, Mr. Muncy said, was “to protect the public, national security and foreign policy.” But after that, he said, Ms. Smith’s focus was on licensing, “biased toward allowing people to risk their own money and their own lives and a mandate to encourage, facilitate and promote the growth of the industry.”
“Patti was the first real FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation,” said Jim Muncy, principal of space policy consultancy PoliSpace. Smith, he said, had to work to win support for her small office within the much larger FAA hierarchy. “The rest of the FAA didn’t always think much of their new spacey colleagues,” he recalled, “but they grew to respect Patti’s tireless advocacy of the future of U.S. commercial space transportation.”
Smith “made huge contributions to establishing the office’s legitimacy and fostering effective relationships with all pertinent stakeholders,” said Courtney Stadd, who was director of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the mid-1980s. He was among those shocked by her passing. “I just saw Patti a couple of months ago and outwardly seemed her usual wonderful self.”
“Those of us that had the privilege to know or work with Patti know how special of a person she was. Her leadership at the FAA helped transform our industry,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group.