Robert Gibson is a retired Captain and Naval Aviator in the United States Navy and a former NASA astronaut. He was born Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson on October 30, 1946 in Cooperstown, New York. At the age of seventeen, he received his private pilot license. In 1964, he graduated from Huntington High School in Huntington, New York, and immediately went on to earn an Associate’s degree in engineering science from Suffolk County Community College. Then he attended California Polytechnic State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1969. Upon his graduation from Cal Poly, Gibson entered the United States Navy. He completed basic flight training in Florida at both the Naval Air Station Pensacola and the Naval Air Station Saufley Field, and then subsequently completed advanced flight training at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas. His first assignment was as a replacement in the F-4 Phantom II for Fighter Squadron 121 at Naval Air Station Miramar in California.
From April 1972 to September 1975, Gibson served many assignments, including Fighter Squadron 111, Fighter Squadron 1, and aboard the USS Coral Sea and the USS Enterprise. He flew combat missions in Southeast Asia in the F-4 with VF-111 and is a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN. When Gibson returned to the United States, he accepted an assignment as an F-14A instructor pilot with Fighter Squadron 124 back at Naval Air Station Miramar. In June 1977, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River and later worked on testing and evaluating the F-14A aircraft.
In January 1978, Gibson was chosen as a NASA candidate, and became an astronaut in August 1979. During his career with NASA, he flew on five spaceflights and spent a total of 36 ½ days in space. His first flight was as the pilot of Space Shuttle Challenger on STS 41-B. They launched from the Kennedy Space Center on February 3, 1984 and successfully sent out two Hughes 376 communications satellites. However, the satellites did not reach desired geosynchronous orbits. Despite the failure, the crew carried out many other successful objectives, including testing rendezvous sensors and computer programs and inspecting both the Manned Maneuvering Unit and the Manipulator Foot Restraint. In addition, the mission included six “Getaway Specials,” the Remote Manipulator System, and the German Shuttle Pallet Satellite. On February 11, 1984 after eight days in space, the mission landed back at the Kennedy Space Center. In 1986, Gibson commanded the STS-61-C mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center on January 12. The crew successfully sent out the SATCOM KU satellite and performed numerous experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. The mission ended on January 18 with an evening landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In 1988, Gibson commanded another mission, STS-27. The crew launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on December 2 and carried a Department of Defense payload as well as various secondary payloads. After 68 orbits of the Earth, the mission landed on Runway 17 at Edwards Air Force Base on December 6.
Gibson’s fourth flight to space was also the fiftieth Space Shuttle mission. He served as commander of STS-47 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, which launched on September 12, 1992. The mission included both the first Japanese astronaut and the first African-American woman, and they all focused on life science and materials processing experiments during many lengthy experiments. After 126 orbits of the Earth, Endeavour landed at the Kennedy Space Center on September 20, 1992. Following that mission, Gibson assumed the role of Chief of the Astronaut Office, where he remained until September 1994.
Gibson’s last flight to space was as commander aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-71, which launched on June 27, 1995. During the mission, the crew became the first to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir and exchanged crews. The crew also performed many experiments in a Spacelab module before returning back to Earth on July 7, 1995. The following March, Gibson assumed what would be his final role with NASA, as Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations. He retired from NASA in November 1996 and subsequently began what would be a ten year career as a pilot for Southwest Airlines. After he was forced to retire in 2006 due to federal regulations for commercial airline pilots, Gibson joined the Benson Space Company as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Test Pilot. In 2009, he had the opportunity to fly as a demonstration pilot for Hawker Beechcraft Corporation to showcase the Premier 1A light business jet across the world. He is married to fellow astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon, has four children, and currently serves as Ambassador for the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
Image Caption: Robert L. Gibson. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia