Montana State University

MSU's satellite renamed to honor former director of Montana Space Grant Consortium.

November 4, 2011 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Besides being director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium, head of the MSU physics department and an award-winning physics professor, William Hiscock was a long-time science fiction fan. Equations that he and former graduate student Hector Calderon published in a paper were used in the movie, "The Day the Earth Stood Still." (MSU News Service illustration).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - The Montana State University satellite that has been orbiting the Earth since Oct. 28 has been renamed to honor the late William Hiscock, who was director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium until his death in 2009.

Directors of the MSGC and MSU's Space Science and Engineering Lab announced Friday, Nov. 4, that the satellite originally called Explorer-1 [Prime] will now be called the William A. Hiscock Radiation Belt Explorer. The satellite that involved approximately 125 students over five years will be known more familiarly as The Hiscock Radiation Belt Explorer (HRBE).

Students, staff and faculty who attended the Nov. 4 dedication ceremony also learned that the satellite whose mission is to study the Van Allen Radiation Belts has already passed through an intense band of energetic electrons bombarding Earth's upper atmosphere over Alaska. HRBE sent that information back to students who monitor the satellite from MSU's Space Operations Center in Cobleigh Hall. The fact was confirmed by government-operated satellites in space.

MSGC Director Angela Des Jardins said that Hiscock would have enjoyed the students' update. He also would have loved to know that a student-built satellite had made it into space on a NASA rocket, she said. HRBE was launched on a Delta II rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It is Montana's first satellite. It was designed, built and is now operated by MSU students.

"We dedicate Montana's first satellite to William Hiscock in hopes that all of the students and Montanans touched by this amazing achievement will be inspired to approach their scientific and education efforts as Bill did - with excitement, integrity, and dedication," Des Jardins said.

David Klumpar, director of the Space Science and Engineering Lab, said earlier in the day that Hiscock was a "fervent supporter of SSEL, and was particularly keen on seeing Montana become a space-faring state. Bill was deeply disappointed when, as his illness progressed and he realized he wouldn't be around much longer, he learned of one of the many prospective delays of E1P's launch. Bill was into everything NASA. He would be gratified to know that NASA itself launched E1P. He is remembered fondly by all of us who had the fortune to be associated with him. Bill is remembered fondly by many, many folks around the country."

Hiscock wrote the grant that started the Montana Space Grant Consortium in 1991 and he directed it for 18 years until he died at age 57 from a rare illness called Light-Chain Deposition Disease. MSGC is designed to provide a variety of space-related opportunities to students throughout Montana in the hopes of jump-starting their careers in the aerospace field. Hiscock was instrumental in the National Space Grant Student Satellite Program, which allows students to design experiments that fly into space. Whenever possible, Hiscock attended high-altitude balloon launches in person.

Hiscock was also a physics professor who headed the MSU physics department. He served on President Barack Obama's transition team for NASA and was involved in several NASA missions. He won numerous awards, including a worldwide award called the Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal and a national service award from the EPSCoR/IDeA Foundation. He published more than 100 papers in astrophysics, gravitation theory, cosmology and quantum field theory.

Hiscock was one of the, if not the, most respected directors of the national Space Grant and EPSCoR programs, Diane D. DeTroye, the manager of those programs, said after Hiscock died on April 21, 2009. His memorial service was held May 14 that year.

Hiscock's wife, Barbara Oyster, and his son, John, attended the Nov. 4 ceremony. Also there were MSU President Waded Cruzado and approximately 70 MSU students, faculty and staff.

C.J. Hadwin, a senior in electrical engineering, was among the speakers who described the satellite and gave an update on its status. He played a recording of HRBE's "heartbeat" and described it as the "most beautiful sound you will ever hear in your life."

Adam Gunderson, another senior in electrical engineering, spoke about some of the science that is already coming from the satellite.

"It's really great to see our instrument works. We're good," he said. "We are doing science, which is awesome."

For a related article, see, "MSU satellite orbiting the Earth after early morning launch."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or