Our Hometown Astronaut
The Millard Oakley Library may promote itself to Livingston as “Your Window to the World,” but no one in the state can say they’ve seen the world from the window quite like Mike McCulley. McCulley was the guest speaker at the Oakley library recently. Many in the audience – now grandparents – were only children when the Livingston Academy graduate piloted the Atlantis Space Shuttle in October 1989 and secured his standing as Livingston’s “Hometown Astronaut.”
Coming home and signing autographs – a heady experience for others – is like old home week for the pragmatic McCulley. The first thing he sees upon driving within the city limits is his face on a Welcome to Livingston billboard, but he takes it all in stride. “Meeting with these nice people and talking about their interest in science and space never gets old for me,” says McCulley, who is now retired and living in Florida with his wife, Jane. “I owe so much to my hometown, and I enjoy coming back here for a visit. They ask about the future of space exploration and my fantastic experiences back in the day. I like talking with Overton County’s people and the important role they played in my success. I look forward to hearing the questions; I find any questions from children always interesting.”
Michael James McCulley was born in San Diego, California in 1943, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Gilson H. McCulley. His father died in an auto accident when Mike was only nine. That’s when his mother, Sarah, moved back to her hometown of Livingston with Mike and his sister Phyllis. Livingston became their new home. McCulley remembers those who influenced him during that time: his mom, his Scout leader Mr. Lowell, and his teachers Arleigh Poston and Lucille Hyder.
Upon graduation from high school, Mike enlisted in the U.S. Navy, entered Purdue University, and received his Naval Officers commission and both degrees. Following flight training, he served tours of duty in A-4 and A-6 aircraft and was selected to attend the Empire Test Pilots School in Great Britain. He returned to sea duty on the USS Saratoga and USS Nimitz.
Selected by NASA in May 1984, McCulley completed a one-year training and evaluation program in June 1985, qualifying him as a pilot on future Space Shuttle flight crews. Mike joined the team of the STS-34. The mission featured the deployment of the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter.
Upper Cumberland Electric always felt a special connection with the shuttle launch because McCully took along with him, the July 1989 edition of our Current Lines newsletter. McCulley also took with him flags from other states, schools and organizations, jewelry and souvenirs for friends, family, and loved ones.
You would think breathing this rarified air would whet an appetite for travel that was out of this world. Not for a grounded and well-rounded tourist like McCulley.
“Oh, I still have an “itch” for exploration,” McCulley admits, “but it’s all about parts of America that I still haven’t seen. As far as the space program is concerned, I want to see us continue to explore and colonize space. I want us to have a human presence away from earth in the future.”
McCulley’s advice for future voyagers in the area? “Don’t be afraid to try once, twice, or even more to reach your goals. Keep up your curiosity, your optimism, work hard. Don’t be afraid to try once, twice, three times. I was selected as an astronaut on my third try! Never give up.”
There must be something about Overton County and its educational system that has generations of youngsters reaching for the stars and making their mark early in life. NASA Scientist Duvone Dale was born and raised in Livingston. NASA honored Dale for his faithful service and his contribution to the moon landing and the successful launch of the first Saturn V Rocket. The Project Manager of the Hubble Space Telescope Jimmy Carlock also hailed from Overton County as did teacher and Coach Sam Brooks.
Whatever the reason this area continues to present these exemplary citizens to the world, McCulley shares with his fellow Upper Cumberland adventurers this common thread: A spirit of discovery and a desire to seek answers that just won’t be denied. UCEMC salutes our brilliant explorers!