US Stamps

Born April 30: Michael J. Smith

May 3, 2021, 7 AM

Michael J. Smith, who piloted the final flight of the space shuttle Challenger, was born April 30, 1945.

Michael J. Smith, born April 30, 1945, was never directly commemorated on a United States stamp, but a 1995 $3 stamp showing the space shuttle Challenger was an unstated tribute to Smith, who piloted the Challenger on its final mission, and the six other crew members aboard the shuttle on Jan. 28, 1986.

On that day, the Challenger broke apart 74 seconds after its launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, resulting in the death of Smith; Commander Francis R. Scobee; mission specialists Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Judith Resnik; and payload specialists Greg Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe.

Smith, born in Beaufort, N.C., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967 and completed Navy aviation jet training in 1999. Initially serving as a flight instructor, he was a combat pilot during the Vietnam War, and completed U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1974. That led to his selection as a NASA astronaut candidate in May 1980 and his assignment as pilot of the 1986 Challenger mission, his first mission in space.

Smith is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

The $3 Space Shuttle stamp (Scott 2544) is inscribed "Challenger STS-7" to honor the 1983 mission that carried the first American woman into space, astronaut Sally Ride (1951-2012), but U.S. Postal Service officials have acknowledged that the stamp also honors those who perished on the final Challenger flight.

Smith and the other Challenger crew members are also remembered on a number of stamps issued worldwide, including a 1994 issue from Grenada (Scott 2330-2331), a 1996 sheet of four stamps from Mali (795), and a 2011 stamp pane from the Marshall Islands (1001).