Spring 2012:

April 13, 2012, "What's Next? A Turning Point in the United States Space Program" Panelists: Frank Di Bello, President, Space Florida; Janet Petro, Deputy Director, NASA KSC; Mike Leinbach, Director of Human Spaceflight, United Launch Alliance; John Kelly, Florida Today, moderator


Saving America's space program is important to me, to our community and to our nation's future. Launching people and spacecraft from our soil to orbit is important to United States' leadership around the world and our national security. A thriving, bustling spaceport is critical to a healthy, growing economy in Central Florida. Venturing farther into our solar system is fundamental to expanding human knowledge.

The importance of our transition from a space program dominated by the NASA space shuttle program to a more fractured and complex space program demands our full attention. The space program of the future is going to involve big government projects like the International Space Station, but also smaller private and semi-private projects. It will be more fractured, probably with less public funding, and facing more scrutiny than ever before because of growing demands on the federal budget.

Saving the space program may sound like a big - and broad - goal because it is. The program could be threatened by inadequate funding, failure to remain on track or a fuzzy, too-often-changing set of goals among other reasons. Our panelists will address what they see as the future of the space program, the threats to its success, and what they believe needs to happen in coming years to keep U.S. space exploration on track.

By John Kelly, Florida Today

  • What is the space program now? It's been easy to define for the last three decades as the space shuttle program and the International Space Station? Now, it's more complex. How do our panelists see it?
  • What are the primary threats to America's leadership in space exploration?
  • What needs to be done to overcome those threats moving forward and ensure that we not only maintain a viable space exploration program but expand it?
  • The big, long-term goals: where ought we be in space exploration 10 years now, 25 years from now and 50 years from now?

Janet E. Petro
Deputy Director
John F. Kennedy Space Center

Janet E. Petro began her professional career as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army after graduating in 1981 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with a Bachelor of Science in engineering. She served in the U.S. Army's aviation branch with various assignments overseas in Germany. She also holds a Master of Science in business administration from Boston University's Metropolitan College.

Currently, Petro is the deputy director of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Appointed to this position in April 2007, she shares responsibility with the director in managing the Kennedy team of approximately 9,000 civil service and contractor employees, determining and implementing center policy and managing and executing Kennedy missions and agency program responsibilities.

Prior to joining NASA, Petro served in various management positions for Science Applications International Corp., also known as SAIC, and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace. At SAIC, Petro held a number of positions, including program/project manager, division manager, and deputy operations manager for several entities within the corporation's operations. She interfaced with NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and commercial entities on numerous programs. As the interface to senior-level government customers, Petro was responsible for overseeing program and project managers and providing operational guidance on various technical programs.

At McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Petro advanced from mechanical engineer and cargo manager for processing classified payloads for space shuttle and expendable vehicles; to program manager for executing a classified, multimillion-dollar U.S. Department of Defense program, integrating payloads onto various space vehicles at U.S. Air Force and NASA facilities; to senior manager in Advance Products Division; to senior manager for Communications and Data Systems Division.

Originally from Detroit, Mich., she now resides with her family in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.

Frank DiBello
President and CEO
Space Florida

Frank DiBello, Space Florida President and CEO, was selected in May 2009 to lead the organization, which serves as the single point of contact for aerospace-related economic development in Florida. In this position, Mr. DiBello develops and executes programs designed to retain, grow and expand aerospace business in Florida. He also focuses on the development of Florida aerospace workforce retention and vendor appreciation programs.

Mr. DiBello has more than 40 years of direct aerospace and defense industry-related experience. In addition to his current role at Space Florida, DiBello is the founding partner for Aerospace Capital Partners, an infrastructure investment fund in formation, investing in aerospace, technology and telecommunications initiatives. He also served as the president and CEO of a strategic advisory and investment banking firm serving the aerospace and high-technology industry, and president/CEO of Florida's Aerospace Finance Corporation, established by the Florida legislature to assist financing the needs of new and established companies applying aerospace technologies to space, aviation and defense markets.

Over the course of his career, DiBello was appointed by NASA and the DoD to serve on a number of critical space commissions and committees. He is also a frequent industry speaker and advocate.

In 1985, DiBello received the Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Defense Department's highest civilian honor, for his work as president of the United Services Organization (USO). He was also founder of the Space Business Roundtable in Washington D.C.

Mr. DiBello taught at the Defense Systems Management College and International Space University. He received his BS in Mathematics from Villanova University and did graduate study work at American University and George Washington University.

Michael D. Leinbach
Human Spaceflight Operations

Michael D. Leinbach is the Director of Human Spaceflight Operations for United Launch Alliance. In this role, he supports the development of designs and processes for the launch of humans on ULA's Atlas and Delta systems.

Prior to joining ULA in January 2012, Leinbach had a distinguished 27-year career with NASA at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Beginning in 2000, he led the launch team for 37 space shuttle missions, serving as the final "go" for launch, and as the senior operations expert for all flight elements and ground support equipment processing.

Leinbach joined NASA in 1984 as a structural engineer in the Design Engineering Directorate. He served as a lead design engineer for a variety of launch pad systems including the Orbiter Weather Protection and Emergency Egress Slide Wire systems. In 1988, he became a NASA Test Director in the Shuttle Management and Operations and in 1991, was named Shuttle Test Director, conducting the terminal countdown and launch of 17 space shuttle missions.

From January 1998 to May 2000, Leinbach served as the deputy director of the Space Station Hardware Integration Office, where he was responsible for all International Space Station (ISS) component processing at KSC and contractor manufacturing locations. He also oversaw the development and execution of the Multi-Element Integrated Test Program, which verified the functionality and operability of the first phase of the ISS program in a configuration, on the ground, as close to the on-orbit final assembly as possible.

He has been honored with numerous awards including the 2004 Presidential Rank Award, NASA's Exceptional Service Medal and NASA's Medal for Outstanding Leadership.

Leinbach holds a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture and a Master of Engineering in civil engineering with emphasis in structural dynamics from the University of Virginia.

John Kelly
Florida Today

John Kelly has covered the NASA and the space industry for FLORIDA TODAY since 2002, including leading the newspaper's coverage and subsequent investigation of the space shuttle Columbia disaster and the return to flight of the space shuttles. He serves today as Local Editor, responsible for all news coverage for FLORIDA TODAY and floridatoday.com, but continues to write a weekly column on space on Sundays. John and his wife Kim live with their seven children in Melbourne.