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Michael J. Smith

Michael John Smith (April 30, 1945 - January 28, 1986) was an American astronaut, pilot of the Space Shuttle Challenger when it exploded because of booster failure on the STS-51-L mission. All seven crew members died.

Smith graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967 and served as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, earning numerous decorations for combat including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He continued his career with the Navy after the war and held the rank of Captain at the time of his death.

Smith was selected for the astronaut program in May 1980; in addition to being pilot on the Challenger, he had been slated to pilot a future shuttle mission which had been scheduled for Fall of 1986.