Rhea Seddon, M.D. visited The University of Tennessee Space Institute for a NASA mural dedication and to present a lecture entitled, “A Different Kind of Research,” on March 28, 2018. The NASA mural, featuring Seddon, was recently acquired at UTSI from the Johnson Space Center in TX. It highlights her second flight, the STS-40 in June of 1991. Her lecture captured what it was like being the researcher as well as the subject of the experiments she performed in space.
UTSI’s Executive Director, Mark Whorton addressed the crowd and welcomed Seddon for the mural dedication. He warmly expressed his thanks to the students, staff, and faculty for all their hard work and dedication as part of the UTSI family. Seddon expressed her excitement as the mural was unveiled by Whorton and UTSI’s Associate Executive Director for Research, Ed Kraft. She remembered the day addressed in the mural stating, “It was a great day and great memory.” She was performing a cardiovascular experiment in the mural and it was the first Space Shuttle mission ever dedicated entirely to life sciences. Seddon was very happy for UTSI to acquire the mural as Tullahoma is close to her home in Murfreesboro, TN so she can visit often. Whorton closed the dedication by honoring the late David Milhorn of UTK stating, “Milhorn was instrumental in getting the mural to UTSI which is a tremendous heritage for UTSI by connecting us to the space world and helping the progression of bringing space back into the Institute”.
Whorton gave opening remarks for Seddon’s lecture in the UTSI auditorium, highlighting her accomplishments. In 1978, she was selected as one of the first women to enter the NASA Astronaut Program, spending 19 years with NASA. With a graduate degree in physiology from UC Berkeley, Seddon went on to earn her M.D. degree from the UT College of Medicine in Memphis. While completing her General Surgery Residency in 1978, Seddon was selected as one of the first, six women to enter the NASA Astronaut Program, referring to herself as, “The littlest Astronaut.” This was the first time NASA was accepting non-pilots and women into the program. She met her husband during her training, Fellow NASA Astronaut Captain, Robert “Hoot” Gipson. They were the first astronaut couple and produced the first “Astro-tots – their two children.” She is a veteran of three space flights, totaling her time in space to 30 days. The second two flights were dedicated to studying life sciences where she performed the first ultrasound in space among other valuable studies of the human body in space.
Seddon didn’t initially intend to get into research. As a surgeon, she liked to find the problem, fix it and move on. When she was faced with this amazing opportunity to work with NASA, she gladly accepted. Seddon started from ground zero. She received extensive classroom training, learned about communication and navigation with the spacecraft, flew in the back of NASA jets, became a pilot, learned about computers, and finally did her life science research in the spacecraft. She stated that she is very proud to have been a part of these experiments and research. Seddon has led an exciting and successful career as an astronaut, surgeon, pilot, business owner, entrepreneur, author, and public speaker. She truly is an inspiration.