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Michael J. Smith (astronaut)

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Title: Michael J. Smith (astronaut)  
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Language: English
Subject: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, STS-51-L, NASA Astronaut Group 9, Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Gregory Jarvis
Collection: 1945 Births, 1986 Deaths, Accidental Deaths in Florida, American Astronauts, American Military Personnel of the Vietnam War, American Test Pilots, Burials at Arlington National Cemetery, Filmed Accidental Deaths, Naval Postgraduate School Alumni, People from Carteret County, North Carolina, Recipients of the Air Medal, Recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Recipients of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross (United States), Recipients of the Gallantry Cross (Vietnam), Recipients of the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Space Program Fatalities, Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, United States Naval Academy Alumni, United States Naval Aviators, United States Navy Officers
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Michael J. Smith (astronaut)

Michael Smith
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Killed during mission
Born April 30, 1945
Beaufort, North Carolina
Died January 28, 1986(1986-01-28) (aged 40)
Cape Canaveral, Florida
Other occupation
Test Pilot
Rank Captain, USN
Selection 1980 NASA Group
Missions STS-51-L
Mission insignia

Michael John Smith (April 30, 1945 – January 28, 1986) was an American astronaut—pilot of the Space Shuttle Challenger when it was destroyed during the STS-51-L mission. All seven crew members died.


  • Early life and military career 1
  • Astronaut career 2
  • Recognition 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and military career

Smith was born April 30, 1945, in Beaufort, North Carolina. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Naval Science in 1967, and subsequently attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, from which he graduated with a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1968. He completed naval aviation jet training at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, receiving his aviator wings in May 1969. He was then assigned to the Advanced Jet Training Command (VT-21) where he served as an instructor from May 1969 to March 1971. During the 2-year period that followed, he flew A-6 Intruders and completed a tour during the Vietnam War while assigned to Attack Squadron 52 (VA-52) aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). In 1974, he graduated from U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and was assigned to the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, to work on the A-6E TRAM and Cruise missile guidance systems. He returned to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1976 and completed an 18-month tour as an instructor. From Patuxent River, he was assigned to Attack Squadron 75 (VA-75), where he served as maintenance and operations officer while completing two Mediterranean deployments aboard the USS Saratoga. He flew 28 different types of civilian and military aircraft, logging 4,867 hours of flying time. He was promoted posthumously by Congress to the rank of Captain, and has had a Chair named in his honor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Astronaut career

Smith was selected for the astronaut program in May 1980; he served as a commander in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL), Deputy Chief of Aircraft Operations Division, Technical Assistant to the Director, Flight Operations Directorate, and was also assigned to the Astronaut Office Development and Test Group. In addition to being pilot on the Challenger, he had been slated to pilot a future Shuttle mission (STS-61-N) which had been scheduled for the Fall of 1986.

Smith's voice was the last one heard on the Challenger voice recorder, saying "Uh oh".[1] It broke up 73 seconds into the flight, and at an altitude of 48,000 feet (14.6 km).[2]

While analyzing the wreckage, investigators discovered that several electrical system switches on Smith's right-hand panel had been moved from their usual launch positions. Fellow Astronaut Richard Mullane wrote, "These switches were protected with lever locks that required them to be pulled outward against a spring force before they could be moved to a new position." Later tests established that neither the force of the explosion, nor the impact with the ocean could have moved them indicating that he made the switch changes, presumably in a futile attempt to restore electrical power to the cockpit after the crew cabin detached from the rest of the orbiter.[3]


Smith was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004, along with all crew members lost in the Challenger and Columbia accidents.[4] He also received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (posthumous), the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, 3 Air Medals, 13 Strike/Flight Air Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal with "V" Device, the Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.

The Michael J. Smith Field airfield in his home town of Beaufort, North Carolina is named after Smith.

Smith was portrayed by Brian Kerwin in the 1990 TV movie Challenger.

See also


  1. ^ Boffey, Philip M. (1986-07-29). "Challenger Crew Knew of Problem, Data Now Suggest".  
  2. ^ Kerwin, Joseph P. (1986). crew cause and time of death"Challenger". Retrieved July 4, 2006. 
  3. ^  
  4. ^ "Congressional Space Medal of Honor". NASA. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 


  • Official NASA Bio

External links

  • Michael J. Smith - Arlington National Cemetery
  • "Michael J. Smith".  
  • "Michael J. Smith".  
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