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12/06/2023 | Press release | Archived content

IUP Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient, NASA Astronaut, Honored with Naming of Cygnus Spacecraft

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IUP Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient, NASA Astronaut, Honored with Naming of Cygnus Spacecraft

Posted on 12/6/23 9:08 AM
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The late Dr. Patricia Hilliard Robertson, a 1985 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and 2000 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, has been honored with the naming of a Cygnus spacecraft.

The naming was announced today by Northrop Grumman, the company that built the spacecraft, which has been named NG-20: the S.S. Patricia "Patty" Hilliard Robertson.

"It's our tradition to name each Cygnus spacecraft after a significant figure in human spaceflight," company officials said. "Dr. Robertson was selected in honor of her accomplishments as a space medicine fellow, flight instructor and pilot, and her service as a NASA astronaut."

IUP continues to honor and remember Hilliard Robertson, a 1980 graduate of Homer-Center High School, with the Patricia Hilliard Robertson Memorial Scholarship for Women in the Sciences. This scholarship is presented during the university's annual Research Appreciation Week's Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Summit.

Hilliard Robertson passed away on May 24, 2001, in Houston from injuries sustained in the crash of a private plane at Wolfe Air Park in Manvel, Texas. Several members of Hilliard Robertson's family, including her mother, Ilse Hilliard, currently live in the Indiana area. Ilse Hilliard worked as an IUP faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology from 1985 to 2001.

The IUP Libraries is honoring Patricia Hilliard Robertson with a display about her life and work.

"Of course, every time that Patty is recognized, it's a tremendous honor, but we also feel the pain of missing her and wishing she were here with us," Mrs. Hilliard said.

"There is a bridge in Homer City dedicated and named in Patty's honor and memory, and there's just something absolutely so beautiful about the bridge-it's a symbol of her being a bridge from her hometown to space. Now, with the naming of this spacecraft in her honor and memory, it's another bridge to space, and it's just wonderful.

"Even though Patty is not here to see this, I know that she knows, I know that she's in heaven, and that she does see what is going on in her name and memory.

"As her family, we are very grateful that Northrop Grumman has honored our Patty with the naming of this spacecraft in recognition of her many accomplishments," Mrs. Hilliard said.

Following her graduation from IUP, upon completion of a medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1989, Hilliard Robertson fulfilled the requirements for a three-year residency in family medicine and was certified by the American Board of Family Practice.

Pursuing medicine further, she was one of only two selected for a two-year fellowship in Space Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch and NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, which she completed in 1997. She joined NASA's Flight Medicine Clinic at the Johnson Space Center in 1997, prior to being selected to be an astronaut.

Hilliard Robertson was a member of the astronaut class of 1998 and was assigned as a crew support astronaut for the Expedition Two crew on board the International Space Station. In that role, she served as an interface between the Mission Control Center Flight Control Team and the Astronaut Office on issues related to the Expedition Two crew and, along with other astronauts, coordinated activities on the ground for the three crew members in space.

In addition to being a medical doctor, Hilliard Robertson was a multi-engine-rated flight instructor and avid aerobatic pilot with more than 1,500 hours of flight time.

The Patricia Hilliard Robertson Center for Aviation Medicine at the Indiana Regional Medical Center was named in her honor in 2009.

The IUP Libraries is honoring Hilliard Robertson with a display about her life and work, and the IUP Special Collections and University Archives hosts the Dr. Patricia Hilliard Robertson Collection.