Created By The Mercury 7 Astronauts
Michael Coats commanded two of his three Space Shuttle missions and piloted the maiden flight of Discovery after its countdown was halted twice, including an abort with just four heart-stopping seconds to go when the main engines shut down after ignition.
Coats was born on January 16, 1946, in Sacramento, CA and received a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, a master of science in Administration of Science and Technology from George Washington University in 1977, and a master of science in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1979.
Following Annapolis, Coats became a Naval Aviator a year later and was assigned to the carrier Kitty Hawk, flying 315 combat missions over southeast Asia as an A-7E pilot. He later was assigned as a flight instructor before attending the Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland and the Naval Post Graduate School from 1977 until his selection as an astronaut candidate in 1978.
Coats piloted Discovery, the third space shuttle, on its maiden flight. Originally scheduled for a June 25, 1984 lift off, NASA halted its countdown at just nine minutes before liftoff due to a backup computer glitch. The six-person crew exited the Orbiter and reloaded the following day, only to have yet another abort; this time at the 6.6 second mark and after the first of the three main engines ignited. A computer monitoring Discovery’s systems with millisecond precision detected the failure of an engine valve to open and commanded engine shut-down just four seconds before liftoff. On August 30, 1984 Discovery finally lifted off. With Coats in the pilot seat, the crew successfully deployed three satellites and unfurled to a height of 102 feet a solar sail being tested as a possible space station energy source.
Coats flew his second mission in 1989, commanding a five-person Discovery crew as they deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite enabling NASA to maintain radio contact with orbiting shuttles 85% of the time and with other unmanned payloads as much as 100% of the time. The crew also performed numerous medical, science and technology experiments.
Coats commanded his final mission, an unclassified eight-day Department of Defense mission, in 1991. The seven-man crew worked around-the-clock in two-shift operations during which they deployed, operated and retrieved the SPAS-II spacecraft, in addition to conducting various science experiments including research of both natural and induced phenomena in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Coats retired from the U.S. Navy and the Astronaut Office in August 1991 and served as Vice President of Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, Colorado. Coats returned to NASA in 2005 to serve as the Director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Michael Coats was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 5, 2007.