Dr. Robert “Bob” Phillips passed away on Feb. 26, 2013, after years of taking the life sciences to infinity and beyond.
Dr. Phillips received his Bachelor of Science in nutrition in 1959 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1961 from Colorado State University. He earned a PhD in physiology from the University of California, Davis before returning to CSU as an Assistant Professor in Physiology and Biophysics in 1964. Dr. Phillips trained several CSU graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in his laboratory, resulting in more than 130 papers published in scientific journals.
As a faculty member at CSU, Dr. Phillips attended a scientific conference in St. Louis in 1983. There, he met a former student who asked Dr. Phillips if he knew any veterinarians interested in working on a space shuttle. Dr. Phillips immediately called his wife and joked that he had a plan for his midlife crisis.
To both his and his wife’s surprise, then 54-year-old Dr. Phillips was one of two payload specialists selected for the Spacelab Life Sciences 1 mission. He began training at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In 1986, just months before his mission’s scheduled launch, a catastrophic accident destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger, grounding the shuttle program for nearly three years. While training for the second scheduled flight, Dr. Phillips was removed from flight status due to an irregular heartbeat. Instead, he supported the mission from the ground as a backup payload specialist and principle Spacelab radio contact.
After the mission, Dr. Phillips became Senior Scientist in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Though CSU was still holding his faculty position, he resigned from the university in 1991. He pursued a variety of scientific and educational roles with NASA, including relocating to Washington, D.C. as Chief Scientist of the Space Station. In 1994, Dr. Phillips joined NASA’s Life Science Division supporting education and outreach. He worked with science teachers and students as they discovered how Earth life changes during space flight. In 2005, Dr. Phillips retired and return home to Fort Collins, Colo.
Dr. Phillips continued to share his knowledge through public “Life and Space” presentations and editing and authoring nine books, including Grappling with Gravity. He remained an active member of the Board of Directors for the Mark Morris Institute until 2012, providing accurate clinical nutrition information to veterinarians and students. He became civically involved in Fort Collins as member of the Senior Advisory Board, the Senior Center Expansion Committee, the Bicycle Advisory Committee, and chairman of the Expansion Grant Writing Subcommittee.
The University has honored Dr. Phillips for his outstanding accomplishments and service to the community and the life sciences with two awards: The Oliver P. Pennock Distinguished Service Award in 1983; and the 50 Year Career Achievement Award in 2010. Dr. Phillips was inducted in the National Academies of Practice and held two patents for interventions that prevent, treat and control animal and human dehydration.
For his love of pure knowledge and dedication to education, Dr. Phillips’ legacy lives on to inspire young veterinarians to pursue careers that are “out-of-this-world.”
Dr. Phillips’ family asks that any memorial contributions be made in support of the Dr. Robert and Nancy Phillips Scholarship Fund at Colorado State University or the Westminster Presbyterian Church. The scholarship fund will benefit CVMBS students with a demonstrated interest in studying nutrition and the biochemical processes of animal and human metabolism. For more information on donating to the memorial fund, or to make a donation, contact Ryan Little, Associate Director of Development, (970) 491-2351, or firstname.lastname@example.org.