by Jennifer Watts
Have you ever dreamed of going into space? To be like astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the moon? Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon and Barry “Butch” Wilmore are two Tennesseans who made their dreams of space travel come true. Combined they have spent 208 days in space and have orbited the earth 3,296 times.
Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Dr. Rhea Seddon was born in Murfreesboro, TN in 1947. When she was ten years old, the Soviet Union (USSR) launched Sputnik. It was the first man-made satellite to go into space. This event inspired her to learn more about science. In 1973, she graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis with a doctorate. She worked as an emergency room doctor in Memphis and the surrounding rural communities. In 1978, she was one of more than 8000 people to apply for astronaut training school with the National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA). She was one of six women accepted into the first class to include females in NASA’s history.
"Discovery" Commemorative Flight Certificate, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Training school was hard for Seddon. One problem, she was only 5 feet 2 inches tall. The space suits didn’t fit her. They were made for men who were much taller. She also had to learn many subjects she had not learned in school like geology and the weather. In 1985, she was selected to travel to space on board the space shuttle Discovery. This made her the fifth woman and the first Tennessean to travel into space. She also flew on two missions aboard the Columbia shuttle in 1991 and 1993. As a doctor, her job was to study how zero gravity affected the human body. What she learned from her experiments paved the way for longer space missions like we see with astronauts today. Seddon retired from NASA in 1997.
Capt. Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Captain Barry Wilmore was born in Murfreesboro, TN in 1962 but grew up in Mount Juliet. He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1994. There he learned about the science of flying. He then became a pilot with the U.S. Navy. He flew over 7,000 hours and landed 663 times on aircraft carriers. He went on to become a flight instructor for the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
In 2000, he was selected to enter astronaut training school. In 2009, he got the chance to go into space on board the shuttle Atlantis. He returned to space in 2014 and lived on the International Space Station (ISS) for 167 days. He was the flight engineer for Expedition 41 and the commander for Expedition 42. During that time, he did four spacewalks for a total of 25 hours 36 minutes. He helped to make repairs and prepare docking adapters for future commercial flights to the ISS. He is still working for NASA today, and is scheduled to return to space in 2021!
Capt. Barry Wilmore’s Flight Suit, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Flight Crew of Expedition 41, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Flight Crew of Expedition 42, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Many people have dreamed of becoming astronauts, but these two Tennesseans made their dreams come true. The experiments of astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon increased our knowledge of the human body here on earth and in space. Captain Barry Wilmore’s work helped to continue the success of the ISS and prepare the way for others to follow him into space. Maybe one day it can be you. As Dr. Seddon’s likes to say, “If you can see it, you can be it.”
Ten astronauts have graduated from University of Tennessee schools:
Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr. (NASA) - 1971
Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon (NASA) - 1973
Dominic L. Pudwill Gorie (NASA) - 1990
Chris A. Hadfield (Canadian Space Agency) - 1992
Jeffrey S. Ashby (NASA) - 1993
Capt. Barry Wilmore (NASA) - 1994
Joe Frank Edwards, Jr. (NASA) - 1994
Scott J. Kelly (NASA) - 1996
William A. Oefelein (NASA) - 1998
Randolph Bresnick (NASA) - 2002
Orbit - to move around an object in a circle motion.
Soviet Union (USSR) - a country from 1922-1991 that included parts of north Asia and eastern Europe. Today most of the former Soviet Union forms the modern country of Russia.
Astronaut - a person who travels into space.
International Space Station (ISS) - a large spacecraft built by sixteen countries that orbits earth where astronauts live and work.
Spacewalk - an activity where astronauts move and work outside the space craft while in orbit.
Docking Adapter - the physical connecting point of a spacecraft to the ISS.
How many days have these two Tennesseans spent in space?
How did astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon help future space missions?
How many spacewalks did Capt. Barry Wilmore do while living on the ISS?
What would you like to do in space if you became the next Tennessee astronaut?
To learn more about what inspired Dr. Rhea Seddon and her work in space, watch her segment on Nashville Public Television’s Tennessee Crossroads, “Tennessee Explorers” episode.
Listen to a preview of Dr. Rhea Sheddon’s autobiography Go for Orbit, first published in 2016.
Watch Wilmore’s NASA crew profile from Expedition 41.
Watch Capt. Wilmore speak with sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt during Expedition 42 to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015. He answers their questions and gives a tour of ISS.
Jennifer Watts is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.