Michael Baker is an engineer and a retired United States Navy captain and NASA astronaut. He was born Michael Allen Baker on October 27, 1953 in Memphis, Tennessee, though he considers Lemoore, California to be his hometown. As a child he was active in the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated from Lemoore Union High School in 1971 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1975.
After his graduation, Baker completed flight training and earned his Wings of Gold as a naval aviator at Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. In 1978, he was assigned to Attack Squadron 56 and boarded the USS Midway to Yokosuka, Japan. In 1980, he was reassigned to Carrier Air Wing 30 as the air wing landing signal officer. He attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1981 and was assigned to the Carrier Suitability Branch of the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate immediately following his graduation. During his time there, Baker conducted carrier appropriate structural tests, aircraft carrier catapult and arresting gear certification tests, and automatic carrier landing system certification tests on the various aircraft carriers of the Navy. In 1983, he returned to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School as an instructor, but was quickly assigned as the U.S. Navy exchange instructor at the Empire Test Pilots’ School in Boscombe Down, England, where he taught performance, flying qualities, and systems flight test techniques.
In June 1985, Baker was selected by NASA, completed a one-year training program, and became and official astronaut in July 1986. His first assignment was on the team that was attempting to redesign, modify, and improve the Shuttle Landing and Deceleration Systems. They wanted to provide greater safety margins during landing and rollout after the Challenger accident. Baker then served as an entry and orbit spacecraft communicator for 11 STS missions. His duties were to communicate with the Shuttle crew during simulations and actual missions, as well as adjusting technical problems and modifications between missions. He worked as the leader of the Astronaut Support Personnel team at the Kennedy Space Center for Shuttle Missions STS-44, STS-42 and STS-45. Then, in 1997, he became the Assistant Director of Johnson Space Center for Human Space Flight Programs. He managed International Space Station trainings, operations, logistics, and personnel administration support. Concurrently, he served as the NASA JSC representative to the Russian Space Agency.
In addition to serving as a CAPCOM and in other administrative positions for NASA, Baker also spent time in space. His first flight was aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis for STS-43. The crew launched from the Kennedy Space Center on August 2, 1991. During the flight, they deployed the fifth Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and conducted many physical, material, and life science experiments that related to the Extended Duration Orbiter and Space Station Freedom. Nine days later, they landed safely on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center. His second spaceflight was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia for STS-52. It also launched from the Kennedy Space Center on October 22, 1992. During the mission, the crew deployed the Italian Laser Geodynamic Satellite that would later be used to measure movement of the Earth’s crust. They also operated the U.S. Microgravity Payload 1 and conducted more research for Space Station Freedom. The ten day mission ended with a landing on Runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center on November 1, 1992. Baker’s third mission was STS-68 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour. It launched from the Kennedy Space Center on September 30, 1994 and was the second flight of the Space Radar Laboratory. The goal for the mission was to radar map the surface of the Earth in order to better understand the effects of ecology, hydrology, geology, and oceanography on Earth’s environment. The eleven day mission was very successful and landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. STS-81 was Baker’s most recent spaceflight, aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. They launched from the Kennedy Space Center on January 12, 1997 and returned to Earth approximately 245 hours later. STS-81 was part of a series of joint missions between the U.S. Space Shuttle and the Russian Space Station Mir. It was the second that involved an exchange of U.S. astronauts. In five days of docked operations, over three tons of food, water, experiment equipment, and samples were moved back and forth between the two spacecrafts.
During his life, Baker has received numerous awards, such as the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the National Defense Medal, and the Overseas Service Award. He was also named Outstanding Alumni of the University of Texas in 1993.
Baker is currently the International Space Station Program Manager for International and Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center. He oversees program operations, integration and flight crew training, and support activities with the International Partners.