Michael J. Smith, a former Vietnam pilot, was the pilot of the Challenger STS 51-L. He left behind his wife, Jane Jarrell Smith (now Jane Smith Wolcott), and three children. Learn more about them and where they are now below.
The Challenger explosion is the subject of Netflix’s new four-part documentary series Challenger: The Final Flight, exploring the stories around the tragedy of January 28, 1986.
Jane Smith Wolcott Married a Doctor Who Had Gone to School with Her Husband
Wolcott would later become one of the founding directors of the Challenger Center. She later remarried and moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia. She married Hugh Dixon “Dix” Wolcott, a doctor and a family friend, The Washington Post reported. Dix Wolcott went to school with Smith at the Naval Academy. While Smith went on to be an astronaut, Dix Wolcott became an obstetrician-gynecologist. She said her husband appreciated her desire to rescue stray animals of all kinds and supported her.
In 1986, she wrote a letter rebuking NASA for its response to the accident, Chicago Tribune reported. She said the Rogers Commission Report reflected “incredibly terrible judgments, shockingly sparse concern for human life, instances of officials lacking the courage to exercise the responsibilities of their high office and some very bewildering thought processes.”
Wolcott said that she first met Smith in 1961 when she was 15, The Washington Post reported. He asked her to marry him six years later after he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. She said the morning he died, they had spoken by phone and he told her it was too cold and “there’s no way we can go today.” She said he had written “I love you” notes to her and her children before he got on the shuttle that day.
She Was Honored in 2018 for Her Work Rescuing Animals
In 2018, Wolcott was honored by the Virginia Beach Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for her love of rescuing animals, The Virginian-Pilot reported. She said that dogs and cats filled her heart after Smith died. She said that when she moved to Virginia Beach in 1991, she brought a rabbit, horses, and multiple cats and dogs with her. She intentionally raised her children with pets, saying that an animal is “the greatest gift” a young child can have. Today, when she visits the shelter, she talks to every animal there.
Smith and Wolcott had three children according to his bio: Scott, Allison, and Erin. In 1996, The Washington Post reported that Erin loved to ride horses at the age of 18, Allison was 24 and married to a medical student and working as a teacher, and Scott was 27 and living in Boston with his wife.
In 2016, Balch attended a memorial for fallen astronauts on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, SpaceFlightNow reported.
In 2015, Balch said that it was touching “knowing how much my dad and the others were loved and looked up to and still that people remember,” CBS New York reported.