The Elementary School and the first seven years of Gymnasium, Michael completed in Bjelovar. He obtained his Gymnasium baccalaureate from the Third Boys’ Gymnasium in Zagreb. In 1954, Michael completed his studies of Mechanical Engineering in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Zagreb. He studied with Professor Bazjanec and his thesis was in the area of theoretical mechanics. During his studies, Michael got interested in aviation. He completed aviation school and got his pilot license in Vrsac. He was an active member of Aeroklub Zagreb and had worked as a technician in the aviation workshop. After graduation from the college, Michael emigrated to Germany, where he first worked for Mercedes Benz I Stuttgart and then for Ford in Collogne.
After working in Germany for two years, Michael left for the USA where he got his first job at Cessna Aircraft Company. He was working on the design of landing gear for the Cessna airplane C182RG. After Cessna, Michael worked for the North American Aviation, where he was a designer of the pilot rescue gear for the interceptor aircraft F-104 Starfighter and strategic bomber B-58 Husstler.
Michael was engaged with the Apollo program since its inception in February, 1962 as a member of the North American Aviation, today’s North American Rockwell who had a contract with NASA to work on the Apollo spaceship. Few months before he started his Apollo work, Michael obtained his US citizenship. He analyzed different Moon landing concepts and plans and he worked on developing specifications for different spaceship systems. He commenced his Apollo work as an engineer and later on he became a Manager in NASA’s Houston headquarters. His task was to eliminate all possible errors that could occur during the flight and his colleagues called him the “manager for problems”. During that period of time he closely collaborated with the main flight controller Gene Krantz.
“Michael Vucelic’s name will not be know as those of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, but it is him and hundreds of engineers, that were the real power behind the Apollo Program.” Associated Press, “Unknown Heroes of the Appolo Program”, published after Apollo 11 landing.
In his 2004 interview for the portal of Croatian Space Agency, Michael said that his most important accomplishment in the Apollo program is the Apollo 8 mission, launched on December 21, 1968. He was able to make an argument to the program leaders to perform the mission to the Moon rather than just use the Saturn V rocket resources to repeat the mission within the Earth orbit. During the mission, astronauts orbited the Moon ten times and successfully landed back on the Earth.
After the historic Apollo 11 landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, NASA abandoned the missions 18, 19 and 20. Vucelic got an assignment to expand the possibilities for the basic spaceship to investigate Moon from the orbit (Lunar Orbital Science Mission) in the last three missions – 15, 16 and 17, by adding research instruments. He was also asked to lead the research from the Moon orbit.
It is certain that there is other intelligent life in the Universe, in addition to us. But, when the aliens observe the Earth in her blue colors, because most of the planet is covered by the water, it is certain that they had sent their expedition to the Pacific Ocean and not to the land. Aliens were on the Earth several times and they talked to the dolphins. And dolphins are trying for decades to tell us something but we, the humans, are such egotists and do not want to hear the messages from other planets. (Anecdote about aliens)
After the Apollo 12 routine mission, the next mission employed a new system of emptying the tanks by heating them with a liquid oxygen. During the mission preparation the liquid oxygen discharge caused the burning of the insulation on the electrical cables in the reservoir. No one was aware that the mission was launched with damaged insulation. After 55 hours of space flight, before astronauts were supposed to go to sleep, it was necessary to switch on the heaters in the reservoir number 2 to increase the pressure and prevent the low pressure alarm during their sleep. When the astronaut Jack Swigart turned the switch the short circuit cause the explosion of the reservoir 2. Vucelic was in charge of the successful astronauts rescue and, as a member of the Apollo 13 mission team, Richard Nixon, the US president awarded him on April 18, 1970 with Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award.
Michael participated in the program of the first America orbital space station – Skylab, launched in 1973. After the completion of the Apollo program, NASA had three unused spaceships with three LEM modules and also three three-stages rockets Saturn V and two-stage Saturn I B. Vucelic was asked to find possible applications for these spaceships. Starting in October of 1969, when he met the Russian astronaut Beregojev, since he spoke Russian, Michael assumed the role of the leader of US-Soviet space programs collaboration. The collaboration was initiated by Richard Nixon, US president. The unused spaceships were then used in the Apollo-Soyuz program. Mike was working on adjusting the spaceships to merge with Soyuz. He collaborated with Aleksej Leonov, soviet astronaut and Tom Stratford, the US astronaut. Just before the Skylab launch, in summer 1975, Michael was sent to London as the VP of East West Trade for Rockwell International Company. His role was to develop trade relations with the Eastern Europena countries. That concludes his work for NASA. During the mission he was a special NASA correspondent reporting for BBC.
In his new role Michael worked on developing trade relations with the Eastern Block countries. The Aeroflot aircraft that flew outside the Soviet Union were soon equipped with the control, navigation and communication instruments made by Rockwell Collins. The Kamazov trucks were equipped with drive shafts and breaks made by Rockwell. The collaboration on the development of the Jak-40 aircraft was also initiated. Michael led the joint American-Polish development of the agricultural plane M-10, Dromader, still produced today by the Polish company PZL Mielec. From 1981, Michael worked for ATT, the US telecommunication company in New York, organizing and leading the new ATT unit. After five years with ATT, 1986, he bought the Ideal Electric Company with 200 workers in Mansfield, Ohio, with his wife. After 20 years, Michael sold his company to South Korean company Hundai.
In September of 2009, at the invitation of the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Serbia, Michael visited Belgrade with his colleague Slavolju Vujic, after 30 years. They gave a presentation at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering with a goal of motivating students to implement their knowledge in their home country. They also presented at the Aviation Alliance of Belgrade.
In 1704, after the Big Serbian migration led by the patriarch Arsenije III Crnojevic, the Vucelic moved from Kolasin in today’s Monte Negro to the village Dubrava next to Ogulin in Austrian Empire. Rafael Vucelic, Michael’s great-grandfather, the officer in the Slunj Regiment, received the nobility title from the Emperor Franz Joseph. Vucelic is a member of the Croatian Nobility Association.
Michael is married to Dr. Inge Perzl, PhD psychologist. She is of German origin, from Munchen. They have two sons, Alexander and Nicholas, and five grandchildren.
Apollo XIII javlja ... Houston, imamo problem, Tehnicka Knjiga, Zagreb, 1970.
- DOB – June 11, 1930
- Place of Birth – Garesnica, Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Croatia today)
- Professional Field – Mechanical Engineering
- Education – Third Boys’ Gymnasium, Zagreb; Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Zagreb
- Work History – Mercedes Benz, Ford, North American Aviation, NASA, ATT, Ideal Electric
- Awards – Presidential Medal of Freedom