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NASA celebrities visit Challenger Center

By Adrienne Teague, University Relations Intern

back row: Dr. Rhea Seddon; Kevin Templeton, 5th grade
teacher, Erma Siegal Elementary School; Robert Gibson.
Seated: Emilee Gibson.

Two chaperones with real star power accompanied a group of 5th graders from Murfreesboro, TN to the UTC Challenger Center. Former NASA astronauts Robert “Hoot” Gibson and wife Dr. Rhea Seddon joined their daughter Emilee and her class from Erma Siegel Elementary School to participate in a day of out-of-this-world fun and learning.

The Challenger Center, located on the UTC campus, is home to a memorial for the members of the Challenger Space Shuttle mission 51-L that exploded in 1986. Approximately 10,000 students visit each year. The center conducts simulated space missions that reinforce and introduce students to real-world applications of science principles and concepts discussed in their classrooms.

“Finding kids who are interested in math and science is not easy. The Challenger Center introduces them to space aviation, which is a great way to motivate kids and get them interested in space and science. They can learn that science really isn’t boring,” Gibson commented.

Gibson was involved in the NASA program for 18 years, and has flown on five shuttle missions. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University. Gibson entered active duty in the US Navy in 1969. He graduated “Topgun” from the Naval Fighter Weapons School. His naval flight experience includes over 6,000 hours in over 50 types of civil and military aircraft.

studentsGibson was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978 and became a NASA astronaut in August 1979. He has flown in five missions, including orbital flight of Challenger, Orbiter Columbia, Orbiter Atlantis, Orbiter Endeavour, and the Atlantis Space Shuttle. Gibson piloted his first space flight, and was spacecraft commander for his remaining four missions completing a total of 36 ½ days in space. He has participated in the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, and also the redesign and recertification of the solid rocket boosters.

Seddon was involved in the NASA program for 19 years and flew on three shuttle missions. She received a bachelor of the arts degree in physiology from the University of California, Berkeley and a doctorate of medicine from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. She was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978, and became a NASA astronaut in August 1979.

Seddon is a three-flight veteran, and has incurred over 722 hours in space. She has flown aboard Discovery and Columbia missions. Her work at NASA includes a variety of areas, including Assistant to the Director of Flight Crew Operations for Shuttle/Mir Payloads and Technical Director of Flight Crew Operations, and crew communicator (CAPCOM) in the Mission Control Center. Dr. Seddon retired from NASA in November 1997. She is now the Assistant Chief Medical Officer at Vanderbilt Medical Group in Nashville, Tennessee.

“My most exciting mission was my fifth and last mission, which was 10 minutes long. We docked with the Russian Space Station, and it was the first time in history that another shuttle had done a docking of that kind,” Gibson said.

Both Seddon and Gibson were excited about the prospect of taking their daughter to the Challenger Center for a real hands-on experience.

Seddon said, “[Emilee] hears us talk about our missions, and she sees the videos of us, but it is wonderful for her to actually be a part of the mission.”

“This center is important because it interests our children in space and science. And these kids are going to be the next generation going on space missions.”

May 26, 2006

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