Margaret Rhea Seddon

UT Health Science Center, ’73


Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.

Margaret Rhea Seddon didn’t originally set out to be a pioneer. Yet, as a physician and one of the first six women accepted by NASA into the astronaut program, a pioneer she was.

Seddon, a native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee and a graduate of the UT College of Medicine, spent 19 years at NASA beginning in 1978. She flew on three Space Shuttle flights and, in 2015, was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

“I don’t think I necessarily did it to be a pioneer,” she says. “There were things I wanted to do, and to a certain extent, I was curious to know whether or not women could be successful in those fields.”

In 1970, she was accepted into medical school at UT in Memphis. Four years later, she was the only woman in a surgical residency program at a private hospital, where women previously were not even allowed in the doctor’s lounge. She said she finished her residency at UT because “women surgeons got more respect.”

Encouraged by a fellow resident, she applied to be an astronaut. “Many times I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this,’” Seddon says. “But I figured I could try and maybe figure out how to do it in a slightly different way or kind of go around the roadblock.”

Among the many roadblocks for the smallest astronaut in the program was the parachute so big Seddon would have fallen out had it not been refitted and the man-sized space suit that was too costly to adjust.

Seddon now lives in Murfreesboro and is a corporate board member, author and motivational speaker.

“Sometimes, you have to dream big and apply where you don’t think you’re going to get in, but you have to try,” she says. “And don’t be afraid to go first.”