Created By The Mercury 7 Astronauts
Robert L. “Hoot” Gibson commanded four of the five Space Shuttle missions on which he flew, including the first docking of a shuttle with the Russian space station Mir.
Gibson was born October 30, 1946, in Cooperstown, N.Y., and received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University in 1969. Following graduation, he entered the Navy and completed advanced flight training two years later. While assigned to Fighter Squadrons 111 and 1 between 1972 and 1975, he served aboard the aircraft carriers Coral Sea and Enterprise – flying combat missions in Southeast Asia. He later graduated from the Naval Fighter Weapons School, known as “Topgun,” and from the Navy Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, Md. In 1977 he was involved in testing the F14A aircraft while assigned to the Naval Air Test Center’s Strike Aircraft Test Directorate.
NASA selected Gibson for astronaut training in 1978. On his first flight, aboard Challenger in 1984, he was pilot on a mission in which the five-person crew properly deployed two communications satellites, but both failed to reach desired synchronous orbits because of upper stage rocket failures. The flight was the first in which astronauts tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit – with both Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart flying untethered up to several hundred feet from the orbiter. Gibson was in command of a seven-man crew when Columbia was launched in January 1986, deploying a communications satellite and conducting experiments in astrophysics and materials processing, Later that month, the shuttle Challenger exploded after liftoff, killing its seven-person crew. Gibson participated in the investigation of the accident and contributed to the redesign of the solid fuel rocket boosters which caused the disaster.
Gibson flew the second mission after the Challenger explosion, commanding a five-person Atlantis crew on a 1988 classified military mission, during which a radar satellite was released and the astronauts performed experiments aimed at defining a human’s role as a military observer in space. Next up for Gibson was command of Endeavour, launched in 1992 with a seven-person crew, including the first Japanese astronaut. During eight days aloft, the astronauts focused on science and materials processing experiments in more than 40 investigations aboard a Spacelab module cradled in the shuttle cargo bay.
On his fifth and final space flight, Gibson in 1995 commanded Atlantis on the first shuttle mission to dock with Russia’s Mir space station. Atlantis was modified to carry a docking system compatible with the Mir’s. There was an exchange of crew members, and while the shuttle was launched with seven astronauts, it returned to earth after 10 days with eight. It was the 100th space mission for U.S. astronauts. To commemorate the event, Gibson carried with him the first American flag flown in space – by Alan Shepard on the first U.S. astronaut flight in 1961. The flag is now displayed in the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Gibson retired from NASA in 1995. He is married to another shuttle astronaut, Dr. Rhea Seddon.
Robert Gibson was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on June 21, 2003. He currently serves on the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s Board of Trustees.