Michael J. Smith was born on April 30, 1945, in Beaufort, North Carolina. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967 and received an M.A. in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School a year later. He married Jane Anne Jarrell and went on to have three children.
After earning his master’s degree, Smith 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, he flew A-6 Intruders from the USS Kitty Hawk in Southeast Asia. In 1974, he completed U.S. Navy Test Pilot School. Smith was assigned to the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate at Patuxent River, Maryland. As a Navy test pilot, he flew 28 different types of aircraft and logged more than 4,300 hours of flying time.
Smith was selected as a NASA astronaut in May 1980. A year later, after completing further training, he received his assignment as a space shuttle pilot. The Challenger STS-51-L mission was his first space flight.
Smith’s widow, Jane Smith Wolcott, was a Founding Director of Challenger Center and continues to serve on the Advisory Council.