Susan Harber, September 13, 2018
Margaret Rhea Seddon of Murfreesboro made history as one of first six female astronauts to enter the NASA program. Having the ‘right stuff,’ she was a pioneer in space exploration and is both a maverick and exemplar in our county today.
Rhea was born on November 8, 1947 to Edward and Clayton Seddon. Her father passed away in 2010 at age 90; and her mother died in 1976. Her sister was Louise Seddon, a former teacher, who is deceased. Edward was a very visible and active attorney in Murfreesboro. He had served as captain with General George Patton in World War II. Upon his return to Murfreesboro, he founded Cumberland Title and First Data Systems and continued a successful law practice. He was also a big supporter of Oaklands and a board member of Rutherford Hospital.
Rhea attended St. Rose Catholic School in Murfreesboro as a first grader and was in the original graduating class in 8th grade. The Science Lab at St. Rose is dedicated to Rhea today. She soon moved to Central High and was a cheerleader, graduating in 1965.
Rhea pursued big dreams from the first day and found them to come true in a beautiful manner. She received a physiology degree from the University of California in 1970 and a doctorate of medicine from University of Tennessee in 1973. After medical school, her father gave her flying lessons as a graduation gift.
Following medical school, Dr. Seddon worked in residency in general surgery in Memphis. By January 1978, she was accepted into NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston training for the space shuttle program. She met classmate Robert Gibson, and they married in Murfreesboro on May 30, 1981 with a renewal of their wedding vows to follow in 2011. They have four children: Julie, Paul, Dann, and Emilee.
Robert was an astronaut in his own right and belongs in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He was a Top Gun in 1972 and an astronaut in 1979. His first trip to space as a pilot was on February 3, 1984, and his last shuttle mission was in June 1995. His space missions include the Challenger, Columbia, Atlantis, and Endeavor.
Rhea was an equal sensation, spending 19 years with NASA. She became an astronaut in August 1979 and flew aboard her first shuttle flight in 1985, deployed two satellites, operated the Remote Manipulator Arm, and performed the first echocardiography in space.
Rhea was a mission specialist on Discovery (STS-51D) in 1985 and on Columbia (STS-40) in 1991. She was a payload commander for Colombia (STS-58) in 1993. She assisted with the preparation of cardiovascular experiments that flew aboard Columbia in 1998. In all, Rhea logged over 722 hours in space.
Rhea retired from NASA in 1997 and spent the next decade as Assistant Chief Medical Officer at Vanderbilt. A brilliant woman, she is a bonus to our community. Today, she is active on a lecturing circuit and continues to promote the excitement and genius she experienced firsthand in our space exploration program. The historical significance of her contributions to science are both groundbreaking and legendary. We are very proud of Margaret Rhea Seddon, still residing in Murfreesboro, as a heroine and a role model.