Westcliff University 2023 Commencement Speaker Robert “Hoot” Gibson
Robert “Hoot” Gibson: A Life in The Skies
There are individuals whose lives are intertwined with the skies above, who push the boundaries of human exploration and inspire us with their incredible journeys. One such person is Robert “Hoot” Gibson, a renowned pilot, astronaut, and adventurer. From his early days of flying home-built aircraft to commanding space shuttle missions, Captain Gibson’s story is one of determination, passion, and a relentless pursuit of the unknown. This year, at the Westcliff University Commencement Ceremony, we have the honor of hearing from ‘Hoot’ on his life and achievements and how we too can achieve our greatest aspirations.
Born on October 30, 1946, in Cooperstown, New York, Robert Gibson considers Lakewood, California, his hometown. Raised in a family with a deep passion for aviation, his mother, Mrs. Paul A. Gibson was an accomplished pilot, and his father was a test pilot for the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Hoot’s exposure to this world of flight nurtured his own aspirations to soar through the skies.
Earning a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University in 1969, Captain Hoot understands the value of education, saying, “Get a lot of education and put your heart and soul into your career. Be prepared for every training event and test along the way. Expect that there might be setbacks along the way, but persistence and perseverance will get you there.”
Gibson’s remarkable career can be characterized by his relentless pursuit of excellence and his willingness to push the boundaries of what is possible. His accomplishments span the realms of military service, test piloting, and space exploration.
In 1969, Captain Hoot joined the U.S. Navy and underwent flight training at various Naval Air Stations. A graduate of the Naval Fighter Weapons School “TOPGUN,” he flew several combat missions in Vietnam. Gibson’s expertise as a pilot and his dedication to his craft then led him to become an instructor pilot where he trained future aviators.
Throughout his military career, Hoot amassed more than 6,000 flight hours in some 50 different types of civil and military aircraft. He earned various military awards, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and multiple air medals.
It was then on to a new adventure. The final frontier. Space.
In January 1978, Robert Gibson was selected by NASA to join the prestigious astronaut corps. After rigorous training and preparation, he became an astronaut in 1979, embarking on a path that would take him beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
He has flown five space shuttle missions, logging a total of 36-1/2 days in space. His first mission, STS-41B in 1984, saw the successful deployment of communications satellites and marked the first use of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) for untethered spacewalks. Subsequent missions included STS-61C in 1986, STS-27 in 1988, STS-47 in 1992, and STS-71 in 1995. The latter mission was particularly historic, as it involved the first docking between a space shuttle and the Russian space station, Mir.
Captain ‘Hoot’ made significant contributions during his time at NASA. He served as an investigator on the Space Challenger accident and played a role in the redesign and recertification of the solid rocket boosters. He also served as the Chief of the Astronaut Office until 1994. After retiring from NASA in 1996, Gibson pursued private business interests and became a pilot for Southwest Airlines.
Following his retirement from commercial aviation, Gibson continued to pursue his passion for flying. He participated in air races, including the Reno National Championship Air Races, where he won the prestigious Unlimited Class Gold Race.
An inductee of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Hoot now resides in Murfreesboro, TN, with his wife, Dr. M. Rhea Seddon, who is also a former NASA astronaut.
We cannot wait to hear from this legendary figure of the skies live and in person at Westcliff’s commencement ceremony June 9, in Irvine California.