Michael Adams was an American aviator, engineer and USAF astronaut. He was born Michael James Adams on May 5, 1930 in Sacramento, California. He graduated from Sacramento Junior College, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1950. Two years later he earned his pilot wings and commission at Webb Air Force Base in Texas. He served as a fighter-bomber pilot during the Korean War, as well as with the 813th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at England Air Force Base in Louisiana and rotational duty at Chaumont Air Base in France.
In 1958, Adams received an aeronautical engineering degree from Oklahoma University. He then studied astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was selected in 1962 for the Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. Adams subsequently attended the Aerospace Research Pilot School and graduated with honors in December 1963. In November 1965 he was selected to be an astronaut in the United States Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. Adams made his first X-15 flight on October 6, 1966 in the number one aircraft.
His seventh X-15 flight, flight 3-65-97, took place on November 15, 1967. He reached a peak altitude of 266,000 feet, and when the aircraft was descending, at 230,000 feet the aircraft encountered rapidly increasing aerodynamic pressure which took a toll on the airframe. This caused the X-15 to enter a violent Mach 5 spin. As the X-15 neared 65,000 feet, it was diving at Mach 3.93 and experiencing more than 15-g vertically and 8-g laterally, which inevitably exceeded the design limits of the aircraft. The aircraft broke 10 minutes and 35 seconds after launch, killing Adams. The United States Air Force posthumously awarded him the Purple Heart and astronaut Wings for his last flight. NASA and the Air Force’s accident board concluded that Adams had lost control of the X-15 as a result of a combination of distraction, misinterpretation of his instrumentation display, and possible vertigo. An electrical disturbance early in the flight corrupted the overall effectiveness of the aircraft’s control system, which added to the pilot workload. In 1991, Adams’ name was added to the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On June 8, 2004 a memorial monument to Adams was erected near the crash site, northwest of Randsburg, California.