Remembering Former USU Physics Professor, Small Sat Conference Founder, Gil Moore

Jan 18, 2021

Gil Moore at White Sands
Credit Courtesy of Sheri Quinn

Former USU Physics Professor and co-founder of the Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University, Dr. Raymond Gilbert Moore, passed away December 28, 2020 in Monument, Colorado at the age of 92. His aerospace career spanned the beginning of the U.S. Space Program in the late 1940s through the current space age. 

Voicemail from Gil: Hi Sheri, it’s Gil. I’m in the hospital at Colorado Springs and so my time has gotten kinda short. I’ll no longer be able to participate in any space activity. So, I thought I’d call you up and give you this Merry Christmas call. Turns out not to be very happy. Ok, Bye bye.

 

The late Dr. Raymond Gilbert Moore was born on January 23, 1928 in Santa Rita, New Mexico. He received an honorary doctorate in Physics from Utah State University in 2014. He preferred to be called simply, Gil.

 

He made a memorable first impression with his black eyepatch and playful laugh that inspired smiles and made you feel like an instant best friend.

 

His excitement for the United States space programs and for education proved as infectious as his youthful chuckles.

 

Gil dedicated his life to aerospace discovery. His areas of focus include solar terrestrial physics, rocket design and research, and satellite technology. His contributions are enormous and include mentoring budding engineers and seasoned ones. 

 

Astronaut Jack Fischer was one of Gil’s students when he was teaching cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Gil developed a program where the cadets could build and launch satellites on military rockets.

 

“In all, you had hundreds of cadets that were able to get this truly operational space experience with almost no cost,” Fischer said. “Just because he convinced everybody to join in this incredible experience. He got the ball rolling and it's never stopped.”

 

Gil began his career at White Sands Proving Ground, while he was a student at New Mexico State University in the late 1940s. He collected data and installed research instruments on captured German V2 rockets that were developed during the second world war. Here he had the opportunity to work with Werner Von Braun, developer of the V2 and pioneer of space exploration.

 

“The V2’s were the thing that really caught my imagination,” Gil said. “Getting to work on some menial task like data reduction was thrilling.

 

Gil worked at White Sands for about a dozen years and entered the next stage of his career in Utah, where he worked at Thiokol, now known as Northrup Grumman. “I really enjoyed my time in Utah,” he said.

 

He served in several management positions on rocket and satellite programs, jobs that took him across the world.

 

Gil was a fluent orator with a knack for making friends. A few years before retiring from Thiokol, he was appointed director of public affairs and in 1986 he became the spokesperson for the Challenger Disaster, the fatal space shuttle incident.

 

“That was a bad, bad time,” Gil said.

 

He regarded that as the most difficult time of his career.

 

After that Gil worked at USU’s Space Dynamics Lab as a research scientist before moving to Colorado, where he retired from the Air Force Academy in 1996.

 

Outside of his professional accomplishments, Gil made big impacts on STEM education. With his wife Phyllis, they helped several generations of university students build and fly dozens of experiments on space shuttles through NASA’s Get Away Special program.

 

He had a talent for recognizing passion and nurturing it in others.

 

Gil inspired a young man named Scott Thomas with the NASA program when Thomas was in high school. He is now a Distinguished Professor of Physic at Rutgers University.

 

“You’ll never find all the people he’s had a positive impact on to talk to. It’s impossible,” Thomas said. “It’s gotta be thousands by now.”

Gil seemed especially proud of Project Starshine. A student- built satellite that looks like a disco ball designed to measure the density of the atmosphere.

 

“We had a lot of help from a lot of people,” Phyllis said. 

“Oh yeah,” Gil said.

 

With Phyllis’s contribution, they recruited volunteers at schools. Students of all ages made the little mirrors that covered the satellite and reflected the sun. So when it spun above their neighborhood at 25 miles an hour, they could view it from a thousand miles away with the naked eye. The first one launched in 1999.

 

“So these kids are participating in a real measurement of solar terrestrial physics and it doesn’t even hurt,” Gil said. “And altogether we think we’ve had an impact on the lives of about 20 or 30,000 kids in 43 countries.”

 

Gil was also instrumental in the success of the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition that started in Utah with two teams in 2006. Now it is the largest such competition in the world.

 

Here is Gi’s son, Walt Moore.

 

“I think his contributions have been much bigger, much more important in what he did outside of work, what he didn’t get paid for, more than anything he did that he ever got paid for,” Walt said.

 

Some credit, well lots of it, goes to Phyllis who accompanied Gil on many of these achievements.

 

They met on her first day at college when she was 16 and he was 18.

 

“That was the day that I fell in love,” Gil said. “Then it turns out she’s a marvelous dancer and we went to every dance.

 

“It’s been a truly interesting and exciting life and I can’t imagine another one,” Phyllis said.

 

“Whether it was at the Air Force Academy, whether it was Utah State or working as an intern for Werner Von Braun, the man has been everywhere and touched so many lives,” Fisher said.

 

Gil was everything you heard in the message from him at the beginning of this story, it speaks to his character, his dedication, strength and resilience. He will be greatly missed and not forgotten.