MICHAEL J. SMITH, CAPT, USN
Michael Smith '67
Date of birth: April 30, 1945
Date of death: January 28, 1986
From the 1967 Lucky Bag:
Mike was pilot of the Space Shuttle Challenger when it was destroyed on January 28, 1986.
From the April 1986 issue of Shipmate:
Cdr. Michael John Smith USN was killed in the explosion which destroyed the space shuttle Challenger at Cape Canaveral, Florida on 28 January 1986. The accident, which was witnessed by millions viewing the lift-off on national TV, took the lives of all seven crew members aboard Challenger.
Commander Smith and his fellow astronauts were honored at a memorial service held in Houston, Texas, on 31 January; that service was attended by President and Mrs. Reagan. "For those who knew you well and loved you," the President said, "the pain will be deep and enduring. A nation, too, will long feel the loss of her seven sons and daughters...."
A memorial service for Commander Smith was also held that same day at the Naval Academy Chapel and was attended by the Brigade, and Navy people in the Annapolis area.
Born in North Carolina, Commander Smith was appointed to the Naval Academy from that state and graduated with the Class of 1967. He also earned a master's degree from the Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
Following a combat cruise in Vietnam, he trained as a test pilot at Patuxent River. In 1980, six years after completing Test Pilot School, he was selected as an astronaut. The ill-fated Challenger Flight was his first space mission.
He is survived by his wife, the former Jane Jarrell of Charlotte, N.C., and their three children, Scott, 17, Allison, 14, and Erin, 8.
From the Class of 1967's 50th Reunion Yearbook, courtesy of William Belden '67:
Mike was born April 30, 1945, in Beaufort, North Carolina. He graduated from Beaufort High School in 1963, and went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Naval Science from the United States Naval Academy in 1967. He 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 U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
Mike 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) that had been scheduled for the Fall of 1986.
Mike’s voice was the last one heard on the Challenger voice recorder, saying "Uh oh". It broke up 73 seconds into the flight, and at an altitude of 48,000 feet.
While analyzing the wreckage, investigators discovered that several electrical system switches on Mike’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.
Michael is survived by his wife, Jane, and three children. Michael enjoyed woodworking, running, tennis, and squash.
He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004, along with all crew members lost in the Challenger and Columbia accidents. 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.
The United States Naval Academy lists the "Class of 1967 Captain Michael J. Smith, USN, Award" as one of the Academy-wide prizes and awards; it is administered by the Aerospace Engineering section.