G. Wyckliffe Hoffler ’68: From aerospace medicine to amateur astronomy

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November 9, 2017
From his backyard observatory, Wyckliffe Hoffler captured this photo of the Horsehead Nebula (also known as Barnard 33). The Horsehead Nebula is a dark nebula in the constellation Orion and is approximately 1,500 light-years from Earth. Though difficult to see visually, it is one of the most identifiable nebulae because images of its swirling cloud of dark dust and gases bear remarkable resemblance to a horse's head when viewed from Earth.

G. Wyckliffe Hoffler, MD, MS ’68, aerospace medicine graduate from the department of preventive medicine, division of public health, is a retired NASA physician.  In his earlier work with NASA at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, Hoffler would evaluate astronauts' cardiovascular health pre- and post-flight during the Apollo Lunar and Skylab programs.   Later he also supported Shuttle launches and landings, and occupational medicine at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As a young NASA flight surgeon, Hoffler took a break one evening from studying for his aerospace medicine boards and went to the roof of a NASA building in Houston, Texas – now the Johnson Space Center – to catch the second night of Apollo 13’s flight to the moon.   He and a few other NASA employees watched a TV monitor fed by an imaging camera attached to a 16-inch telescope and saw in real time the 25-mile diameter oxygen cloud from the craft’s just-ruptured tank venting into space.

He had earned his MD degree in 1960 from the University of North Carolina and after serving with the US Army, took a residency in internal medicine before entering the Ohio State specialty residency program.  Hoffler said that Ohio State was then the only civilian aerospace medicine program in the US.   He applied and was admitted with six other residents in his class. 

He grew up in eastern North Carolina, and his schooling and career took him many places before settling in Titusville, Florida, 40 years ago.  He and his wife, Anita, still live in the home they bought back then, and it is where they saw their three children into adulthood.  They now have great-grandchildren.

He has participated in several medical mission trips to Haiti, China, and Africa.  Most recently, in May 2017, his team embarked on a 10-day trip to Kenya, holding one excursion clinic near the Somalia border (at the age of 83).  Until recently, Anita accompanied him on some health and other global trips.

Hoffler has had a love of the heavens since he was a kid, and is a life-long amateur astronomer.   He has an observatory in his backyard with a large telescope, computer, and other electronics to help him photograph deep space objects.  He shared that he “gets wrapped up in exploring and photographing space and sometimes may not come inside until 4 a.m.!”  His avocation complemented his career in aerospace medicine, which Ohio State launched.

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 19th among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report, and also includes the top 10-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice, and the NCI-funded Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science (CERTS).