Murfreesboro native Dr. Rhea Seddon says her husband and fellow astronaut, Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson, can do anything, but her groundbreaking career as one of America’s first female astronauts proves she can do the same.
Dr. Rhea Seddon and Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson accept the Universum Exploratum Est Magnum Opus Semper Gratis award from Robert J. Schwinghamer and David Swindler, who made the rocket-shaped model, during the Christmas banquet. (TMP/M. Kemph)
They met at the NASA Space Center in Houston, and their wedding included a first dance to the tune of “Fly Me To The Moon” and a cake adorned with NASA insignia.
The two were recently awarded the Universum Exploratum Est Magnum Opus Semper Gratis by the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association as part of an annual banquet in December at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport's Donald McDonald Hangar.
During her keynote address during the award presentation, Seddon regaled the group with a slideshow detailing her experiences in the cockpits of the different aircrafts, from a Cesna airplane to the space shuttle, from her 40-year piloting career.
Seddon was born in Murfreesboro, graduated from Central High School in 1965, and received her doctorate of medicine from the University of Tennessee in 1973.
“I thought, maybe someday NASA will come looking for women with medical degrees,” she said, concerning her decision to enter the medical field.
She asked for flying lessons as a graduation gift from her father.
“Flying helped me put away the daily stress of the hospital,” she said.
NASA did come calling in 1978, and Seddon was chosen as part of the first group of astronauts to include women.
She flew three missions on space shuttles Discovery and Columbia, acting as mission specialist and payload commander for flights to Spacelab, whish was a reusable space laboratory.
Gibson began his flying career in the U.S. Navy, flying missions in Southeast Asia as a fighter pilot until 1975, before becoming a test pilot for the F-14 Fighter project.
Gibson flew five space missions in all, serving several roles including pilot and commander on the Challenger, Columbia, Atlantis and Endeavor shuttles.
He entered the private sector as a Southwest Airlines pilot in 1996, retiring in 2006.
Gibson currently holds the World Speed Record for a 100-kilometer closed course, setting the record in 2004 in a Class C-1A aircraft between McMinnville and Murfreesboro.
Seddon is a Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame member, a recipient of the NASA Outstanding Leadership and Exceptional Service Medals, and two-time winner of the Melbourne W. Boynton Award.
Seddon and her husband reside in Murfreesboro, and she continues to advocate for young women seeking careers in science and technology fields.