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Challenger Crew: Michael J. Smith

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Posted at 12:10 PM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 02:18:23-05

Michael J. Smith served as the pilot for the Space Shuttle Challenger. He was born April 30th, 1945 in Beafort, North Carolina. Before becoming an astronaut, Smith served in the Vietnam War.

Flying was Smith's life-long passion. He received his pilot's license before he could even drive a car! Days after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967, Smith married Jane Anne Jarrell. Together, they had three kids: Scott, Alison, and Erin.

The following year, he received his Masters in Aeronautical Engineering. Eventually, Smith became a test pilot for the Navy, where he flew 28 different types of planes and logged more than 4,000 hours of flying time. In 1980, he was selected to be a NASA astronaut.

After Smith finished training, his first assignment was to fly the Space Shuttle Challenger. Before the flight, Smith explained his enthusiasm during a press conference, "I'm one of the three members who this'll be their first time to fly...We're just excited to learn the secret handshake."