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Challenger Biographies: Michael Smith

By Marty McDowell/NASA

The pilot for the fatal 1986 Challenger mission was Michael J. Smith, born on April 30, 1945 in Beaufort, North Carolina. At the time of the Challenger accident a commander in the U.S. Navy, Smith had been educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1967, and received an M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1968. From there he underwent aviator training at Kingsville, Texas, and received his wings in May 1969.

After a tour as an instructor at the Navy's Advanced Jet Training Command between 1969 and 1971, Smith flew A- 6 "Intruders" from the USS Kitty Hawk in Southeast Asia. Later he worked as a test pilot for the Navy, flying 28 different types of aircraft and logging more than 4,300 hours of flying time. Smith was selected as a NASA astronaut in May 1980, and a year later, after completing further training, he received an assignment as a Space Shuttle pilot, the position he occupied aboard Challenger. This mission was his first space flight.

Source: NASA.


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Your Memories Shared!

"I was in Beaufort, NC at the time of the disaster. I was 12 years old at the time. I can remember my telephone ringing. It was my best friend Andy Smith (nephew of Michael J. Smith). He and his family had left Florida early due to all the flight delays and were in Morehead City when they got the news. I will never forget the memorial ceremony that was held at Beaufort Elementary School. There were so many people there that they had to setup television monitors outside so everyone could see. As the family was leaving the memorial, I can remember Andy grabbing my hand as he walked out. Its hard to believe that it will be 15 years on 1/28 and that day and that ceremony are still very clear in my mind."


"Mike Smith was the son of high school classmates of mime. I never knew him when he growing up, but got to know himv ery well after he was assigned to the Astronaut program (I lived in Houston). He was one of the finest young men have ever known. His death in Challenger was a tradegy to his family, friends, the Navy and our country."

--CAPT E.H. Potter USN(Ret)

"In the pictures of the Challengers crash, it gives me tears to look at there excited, happy faces. Especialy Micheal Smith, his face in the picture is as unforgetable, tearfilling facial expression (he looks so happy, and to think he doesn't know what's coming). :("


"Mike was always smiling. He and Jane and their children were our good friends in Test Pilot School at Pax River. We miss them both. Mike was so talented. He built all his furniture; it was beautiful. He had a beautiful home, a beautiful wife and two beautiful children. We have many fond memories as do all the rest of us from TPS. "

--a Marine-semper fi,Mike,Walt

"I was North Carolina. I am very sorry for what had happened to Michael Smith. I hope this will never happen again because I miss my uncle. I hope this will never happen to another astronaut. "

--K Smith

Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.


Michael J. Smith

Courtesy of NASA

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