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Tennessee's first female astronaut reflects on her 20-year-long career with NASA

Dr. Seddon was the first Tennessee woman and one of the first six women in the U.S. to go to space.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Dr. Rhea Seddon, a Murfreesboro native, reflects on a 20-year career in NASA with three flights in 1985, 1991, and 1993, spending over 700 hours in space.

Her dreams to get there started early, but for an astronaut, her path wasn’t aerodynamic.

“I had dreamed of being an astronaut when I saw Sputnik fly over, but of course, (NASA) didn't take women into the astronaut program,” said Seddon. “I just thought I was going to have to do something else.”

Seddon went into the medical field and got her medical degree from the University of Tennessee - her big orange spirit reflected on her flight helmet.

“I can't say that I went to Knoxville and enjoyed all of the football games and things,” she said. “But I did go to the UT medical school in Memphis.”

After completing her surgery residency, Dr. Seddon got the call she dreamed of.

In 1978, she was one of the first six women selected to go to space and the first woman from Tennessee.

Credit: Rhea Seddon
NASA's first six female astronauts.

After seven years of hard training in the classroom, in the field, and in the sky Dr. Seddon was ready for lift-off.

“There comes a time when you have put so much effort into getting ready, you're just ready to go,” the retired astronaut said. “Once they light the boosters you're on your way, and in eight and a half minutes, you're gonna be in space.”

Dr. Seddon served as the onboard crew medical officer for her flights.

In addition to this huge responsibility, her mission was to research human adaptation to space.

Credit: Rhea Seddon
Seddon and her crew in space.

Seddon said her crew members always had great respect for her and each other.

“People that you fly with are friends forever, so you remember all those times,” she added.

One of Dr. Seddon’s astronaut friends became her husband.

She married Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson and they had four children together. Their first child was dubbed “The World’s First Astrotot”.

Credit: Rhea Seddon
Dr. Rhea Seddon and her husband, Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson.

After 20 years at NASA, three space flights, and 30 days in space Dr. Seddon traded her spacesuit back for her medical coat in 1997.

Seddon then served as the Assistant Chief Medical Officer at Vanderbilt University for 11 years.

Her book, Go for Orbit, details her space career leading up to her big transition.

“It's a very easy read, nothing complex about it,” Seddon said. “There's some humor in it, some sad times… the Challenger accident is in there.”

Today, Dr. Seddon travels around the country challenging students to dream big.

She said if you trust the process you will find your purpose.

“Sometimes those things that get you where you want to go are difficult,” Seddon added. “You may take side trips along the way, I certainly did.”

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