Birthplace: Beaufort, North Carolina, April 30, 1945
Challenger Position: Mission Specialist
Education: Graduated from Beaufort High School, Beaufort, North Carolina, in 1963; received a bachelor of science degree in Naval Science form the United States Naval Academy in 1967 and a master of science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate School in 1968
Honors: The Navy Distinguished Flying cross, 3 Air Medals, 3 Strike Flight Air Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal with the "V", the Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnamese cross of Gallantry with the Silver Star
The pilot on Challenger mission STS 51-L was Michael J. Smith. He was born on April 30, 1945 in Beafort, North Carolina. He enjoyed woodworking, running, tennis, and squash. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967 and later attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California where he received a master of science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He completed Navy aviation jet training at Kingsville, Texas where he received his aviator wings in May 1969. He was assigned to the Advanced Jet Training Command (VT-21) where he served as an instructor from May 1969 to March 1971. During the following two years, he flew A-6 Intruders and completed a tour in Southeast Asia 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. He worked on the A-6E TRAM and Cruise missile guidance systems. He later returned to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1976 and completed an 18-month tour as an instructor. Smith then went on to serve as a maintenance and operations officer with Attack Squadron 75 (VA-75) while completing two deployments in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Saratoga. He flew 28 different types of aircraft and logged more than 4,800 hours of flying time.
Smith was selected for the astronaut program in 1980. He completed a one-year training program in 1981 which qualified him as a pilot in the Space Shuttle program. He served as a commander in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, 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.
Smith was selected as pilot for Challenger mission STS 51-L. It was to be his first space flight. His voice was the last one to be heard on Challenger's voice recorder. He was heard saying "Uh-oh" just before Mission Control Mission Control received the last telemetry data . The Shuttle then broke up 73 seconds into the flight at an altitude of 48,000 feet (14.6 km). After the accident, Smith was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, and was survived by his wife and three children. 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. He was also posthumously awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. The Michael J. Smith Field airfield in his home town of Beaufort, North Carolina was named in his honor.