At the age of 17 he graduated from Livingston Academy and he enlisted in the United States Navy in the submarine service and would serve on both diesel-powered and nuclear-powered submarines.
After earning his wings as a Naval aviator, McCulley served tours of duty in various aircraft and also was chosen to attend the Empire Test Pilots’ School in Great Britain.
During his naval flying career, it has been documented that prior to his retirement from the Navy in 1990 that he had flown over 50 aircraft types logging over 5,000 hours and had made over 400 dangerous air craft carrier landings from six vessels.
He served as a test pilot in several locations prior to returning to sea duty on the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga and USS Nimitz.
Although Michael J. McCulley was born in San Diego, California on August 4, 1943, his family moved to Livingston, Tennessee in Overton County, in Middle Tennessee and he considers the rural community to be his hometown.
He would eventually be sent to college in 1965 and received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Metallurgical Engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1970 and at the same time he obtained his Officers commission in the Navy.
At the age of 40 McCulley made the decision to apply for the National Astronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with hopes of becoming an astronaut. After applying for a position in the program three times he was finally accepted.
Assigned to Houston, Texas, he and his crew were preparing for a trip into space with the Challenger flight with seven crew members aboard that broke apart right after take-off resulting in the death of the entire group.
AS a result of the tragedy any future space flights were put on hold and it was not until October 18, 1989 that McCulley and four other crew members launched the Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis STS-34 from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. McCulley served as the pilot on mission STS-34 and after a duration of four days, 23 hours, and 41 minutes and 79 orbits of the earth, safely landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on October 18, 1989.
One of the main objectives of the crew’s flight was to deploy the Galileo/Jupiter planetary spacecraft that was launched approximately six hours into the flight. Galileo was a NASA spacecraft mission to Jupiter to study the planet’s atmosphere and perform research and medical experiments. Many of the tests were to study the effects of space and zero gravity to the body to see if and how someone could live several years on Mars. McCulley and his crew “was only the second shuttle flight to deploy a planetary spacecraft.”
He next accepted a job with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center and he and his wife Jane and five daughters moved to Florida. Although he was in line for a second flight into space that apparently never took place. After assuming several prominent positions with private companies in the aeronautical industry and turning down a job with the federal government offered by President Bush, he retired.
Also, although McCulley and Roger Crouch from Fentress and Polk County, Tennessee are two astronauts who traveled into space, Overton County has had other connections to other NASA projects. NASA Scientist Duvane Dale was born and raised in Livingston and was a significant contributor to the initial moon landing and the successful launch of the first Saturn V Rocket.
McCulley proudly claims Livingston as his hometown. “I owe so much to my hometown, and I enjoy coming back here for a visit.” In spite of receiving numerous special honors and recognition medals he remains a humble individual with ties to Overton County and Livingston. When he traveled into space on the shuttle launch Mike took with him “memorabilia that involved a copy of the July 1989 newsletter of the Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, flags from other states, schools and organizations, jewelry and souvenirs for friends, family and loved ones.”