Tribute to Dr. Mike Wiskerchen

Dr. Mike Wiskerchen, loving husband and father, cheerful colleague and mentor, tireless educator and Space Grant director, passed away Wednesday, December 18, 2019 of congestive heart failure. Throughout his career, Mike lived and breathed STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  He earned his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Denver and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona, where he became Assistant Director of the Lunar and Planetary Lab under Dr. Chuck Sonett and then Director of the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center Observatory outside of Tucson. He then joined NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as Program Scientist for the STS-9 Spacelab-1 joint mission between NASA and ESA, becoming good friends with the astronaut corps and international scientists. He then joined Stanford University where he worked closely with Dr. Peter Banks and Dr. Sally Ride and served on a committee for designing the International Space Station. Mike’s greatest reward came from mentoring students in reaching their potential through hands-on projects and it was at the University of California, San Diego, where he served under the mentorship of Dr. James Arnold and again with Dr. Sally Ride, where he was able to devote over 20 years to this through Calspace and the California Space Grant Consortium, serving as Director. During this time he grew the consortium from an initial three affiliates to twenty-eight affiliates across the state, providing mentorship opportunities for thousands in aerospace and engineering.  After retiring in 2011, Mike continued his involvement in space-related entrepreneurial endeavors and pursued beloved hobbies that involved his family, gardening and cooking.

Mike had a long history of heart disease, diagnosed in 1999 when he required emergency quadruple bypass surgery due to an inherited condition: lipoprotein little “a” mutation that causes blockage of coronary arteries. He greatly surpassed his doctors’ expectations and managed his health with diet, exercise and medications, doing very well for several years. He developed congestive heart failure, however, and first required a defibrillator/pacemaker and then an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) in 2016. Throughout these changes and declines, Mike maintained his perpetually positive outlook on life and a cheery disposition. It was easy for those around him, including his family, to forget the seriousness of his condition and to think of him as invincible. His will to live was unwavering to the end, but his body succumbed to the heart failure on December 18, 2019. He was surrounded by family and loved ones, who made sure he ended this life’s journey and started off his next in peace, comfort and love. He is survived by his spouse, Maureen; his three sons (James and Jason from a prior marriage, and Kyle from his marriage to Maureen); three grandchildren; his brother, John and sister, Ann.  Mike will always be remembered for his big, ready smile, his positivity, his support of others’ dreams, and his lifelong dedication to STEM education. He will be missed.

To continue Dr. Wiskerchen’s legacy, the National Space Grant Executive Committee has designated a $3000 scholarship fund in his honor. The awarded funds will go to the Physics Department of University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF), where Mike began his Physics studies, started his career dreams and launched his amazing career.