Dr. Rhea Seddon and Robert “Hoot” Gibson shared their out-of-this-world experiences as astronauts with 1,000 people attending the 75th anniversary celebration of the Civil Air Patrol Aug. 12 in Nashville.
As guests of MTSU’s Department of Aerospace, a sponsoring partner of the organization’s national conference, the Murfreesboro residents and retired NASA astronauts entertained the crowd with their separate stories about life before, during and after their space careers.
The Civil Air Patrol, an official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a congressionally chartered and federally supported nonprofit corporation. The CAP’s conference at Gaylord Opryland Hotel is 35 miles from MTSU, which features nationally ranked aerospace as one of its top programs.
Just before starting one of several book signings for her “Go for Orbit” now in its fourth printing and two more talks later in the day, Seddon told an audience it is “wonderful to see young people get excited about aviation and space.” A number of event participants are part of Civil Air Patrol cadet programs.
During the three speaking sessions, Seddon shared the challenges she, as a small-town girl and “Southern belle,” faced in first becoming a physician and then committing to NASA and its previously male-dominated astronaut program before beginning the space shuttle Challenger program.
“They (NASA) were willing to give women a try,” said Seddon, who praised Gibson for helping her master computer and technology issues.
“Once I got in the astronaut program, I knew nothing about engineering and technology. I was stuck in the ‘SSSS’ portion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).”
As a younger woman, one of her favorite sayings was, “It doesn’t hurt to try.” And try she did, even realizing while looking toward space, a half-million pounds of explosives were under her and someone was going to light a fuse or, in this case, push a button for lift-off.
Gaining confidence and having determination helped her persevere, she said, and a subsequent career with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and her book have proven there can be life after NASA.
“I learned principles I used in aviation were not being used well in medicine,” she said, mentioning teamwork, communication and standardization of processes, or what she called crew resource management. “With help from some pilots, we began taking those things to healthcare to improve safety, reliability and team effectiveness.”
It led to the formation of a company to help other hospitals do the same thing, she added.
“Those are things that can be used in every workplace — even valuable in the Civil Air Patrol’s education and leadership program,” she said.
“Go for Orbit” was a “story worth telling,” she said. “It was a labor of love to write my experiences down. I hope by passing on a tale of what it took, how it felt, the good times and the sad times … that young women can see what it takes to have a wonderful and successful life. And women like you, who are well along on your journey, will see the parallels with your lives.”
Gibson invoked plenty of humor in his presentation and, like his wife, discussed the future of the Civil Air Patrol in his closing remarks.
“The future of the country is great and the future of the Civil Air Patrol is even greater … motivating and developing young people,” he said.
MTSU vice president of marketing and communications Andrew Oppmann, a lieutenant colonel with the Civil Air Patrol, introduced Seddon and Gibson and informed the group about the university’s special partnership with CAP.
Dr. Wendy Beckman, interim chair in the MTSU aerospace department, discussed the MTSU program that features professional pilot, air traffic control and a five-year-old unmanned aircraft systems, or drone, concentration. In May, MTSU unveiled a new $700,000 flight simulator building at the university’s flight operations center at Murfreesboro Airport.
Beckman introduced Seddon at the CAP Women’s Leadership Forum sponsored by the aerospace department.
Alumnus Terry “Max” Haston, adjutant general with the Tennessee Army National Guard, and state Sen. Jim Tracy, a strong supporter of MTSU, attended the morning general session. Col. Barry Melton, commander of the Civil Air Patrol’s Southeast Region, also is an MTSU graduate.
In May 2014, MTSU and the Civil Air Patrol’s Tennessee Wing formed a partnership in aerospace education for Tennessee high school students in the U.S. Air Force auxiliary’s cadet program.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)