Mark Pestana


Mark Pestana, Colonel, USAF Reserve (ret), is a Flight Test & Evaluation Instructor at the USAF Test Pilot School, Edwards AFB, CA, in support of the Space Test Fundamentals course for US Space Force students. He consultants for NASA and the National Test Pilot School, Mojave, CA. He is also an instructor at the University of Southern California, Viterbi School of Engineering, instructing aerospace safety. As a USAF Command Pilot and NASA Research Pilot Mark has logged over 5000 hours in over 30 aircraft types, including heavy transport, supersonic jet, turboprop, general aviation, sailplane, ultra-light, and unmanned/remotely piloted aircraft. He led the development of NASA's unmanned aircraft research program in collaboration with the FAA, NTSB, DOD, DHS, and the U.S. Congress. Mark led UAS mission development, crew training, and flight operations for NASA's MQ-9 Predator-B and RQ-4 Global Hawk. With extensive "hands-on" flight operations of UAS in the National Airspace, he was designated by NASA a Subject Matter Expert in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations, research, and human factors engineering.

Mark served in the USAF as a command pilot, DOD space shuttle operations officer, and a research & development engineer. As a NORAD Orbit Analyst at Cheyenne Mountain Space Defense Center, Colorado, he tracked and maintained the satellite catalog data base of Earth-orbiting objects, including orbit decay predictions. He logged 213 combat intelligence sorties flying “Cold War” RC-135 reconnaissance missions worldwide. He completed his USAF career as the assistant to the Chief of Safety for the USAF Flight Test Center, and concurrently flew C-12 safety chase missions for the CV-22 Osprey and C-130J test programs.

Upon assignment to NASA’s Astronaut Office, Johnson Space Center, TX, as a flight crew operations engineer, he developed astronaut crew operations for assembly and operations of the International Space Station (ISS), and modifications of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as a “lifeboat” for ISS. He spent time in this effort at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City, and the Russian Mission Control Center, Moscow.

Mark served as a NASA airborne science mission director, flight test engineer, and research pilot assigned to Dryden/Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB. He has flown a variety of aircraft for NASA’s Earth Science and Aeronautics research programs, including hurricanes, atmospheric chemistry, wildfire geo-location, wing shape sensing, supersonic airfoil performance, and sonic boom characterization. These include DC-8, B200, F-18, F-15, T-38, T-34C, G-III, and RQ-4 and MQ-9 unmanned aircraft.

Mark earned a BS Natural Sciences from Loyola University, Los Angeles, and was commissioned through the USAF ROTC Program. He earned an MS Systems Management/Research & Development from University of Southern California. Mark is also an award-winning professional artist, specializing in aerospace themes, with 14 paintings in the USAF Pentagon Collection, and he designed 9 Space Shuttle Mission patches for the astronauts. Mark is an actor-member of the Screen Actors Guild with experience in feature film and television. Other interests include hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, photography, and public and student STEM outreach.

Published on April 1st, 2021

Last updated on November 6th, 2023