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Love is in the Air: Great Couples of Aerospace History

Posted on Wed, February 14, 2018
  • by: Hillary Brady, Digital Experiences
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Aerospace pioneers make all kinds of new discoveries during their careers—some even find that special someone along the way.

NASA Astronauts Rhea Seddon and Robert “Hoot” Gibson.

NASA Astronauts Rhea Seddon and Robert “Hoot” Gibson. Credit: National Air and Space Museum

Rhea Seddon and Robert “Hoot” Gibson

Dr. Rhea Seddon and Capt. Robert “Hoot” Gibson remember the exact moment they met: At one of the first meetings for the 1978 astronaut class, Seddon came over to introduce herself. She shook Gibson’s hand and the rest was history.

The 1978 NASA class was noteworthy beyond this important handshake—it was the first astronaut class to include female, African American, and Asian American astronauts. Seddon and Gibson got to know each other during training and married three years later, becoming the first couple to meet and marry within the astronaut corps. According to Seddon, their first child Paul made history, too, as the world’s first “astrotot.”

Aviators Willa Brown and Cornelius Coffey.

Aviators Willa Brown and Cornelius Coffey. Credit: National Air and Space Museum

Willa Brown and Cornelius Coffey

Aviators Willa Brown and Cornelius Coffey were more than just groundbreakers in their field—they were activists, business partners, and husband and wife.

Brown—the first African American woman to earn a both pilot’s license and a commercial license in the United States —ran the Coffey School of Aeronautics with her husband, an aviation pioneer in his own right. The Coffey school trained over a thousand students during its run, from 1938-1945, including many Tuskegee Airmen pilots.  After World War II, Coffey would continue training a new generation of aviation professionals, many of whom went on to become some of the first African American commercial airline mechanics.

NASA Astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis.

NASA Astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis. Credit: National Air and Space Museum

Mark Lee and Jan Davis

When Lee and Davis flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in September 1992, they became the first married couple to fly on the same mission—and also the last.

The couple, who met during training, were assigned to the STS-47 mission in 1989. Lee and Davis were married in January 1991, but didn’t tell NASA until after the ceremony. Though a NASA spokesperson noted that “there was an unwritten policy not to put husbands and wives on the same flight,” there wasn’t enough time to train new astronauts for the Endeavor’s mission. So, the couple got to takeoff together (and NASA made their unwritten rule a formal policy).

Jon and Patricia Sharp stand next to their plane, Nemesis.

Champion air racers Jon and Patricia Sharp. 

Jon Sharp and Patricia Sharp

Those who design planes together, stay together. The Sharps designed and built the most successful plane in air racing history. Their original aircraft, the Nemesis, set 16 world speed records with Jon at the controls before it was retired in 1999 and donated to the National Air and Space Museum. (You can see it on display at our Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia!)

Jon, a former engineer at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, designed the aircraft, and Patricia was its composite fabricator. In 2000, the Sharps designed their Nemesis NXT aircraft, which reaches speeds of over 415 mph. The Nemesis NXT set four world speed records in 2015, but for the Sharps that’s all just part of life in the fast lane.

Hear more from Dr. Rhea Seddon and Capt. Robert "Hoot" Gibson in the “What’s New in Aerospace?” episode “For Better or Worse: An Astronaut Couple on Spaceflight, Marriage and Family.” You can meet Jon and Patricia Sharp at our GE Aviation Lecture, “Meet the King and Queen of Speed,” at our Museum in Washington, DC on April 26 at 8 p.m.