- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

RUSSELLVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky native who is now a top administrator for NASA says a manned mission to Mars is the main focus of the American space program evolving into a “deep space” venture.

Col. Terry Wilcutt of Russellville is a former space shuttle commander and currently director of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance in Washington, D.C. Wilcutt said NASA has transitioned from 135 missions with the shuttle program to a mix of private and public missions as needs are met for the International Space Station and planning continues for the Mars mission.

Wilcutt told The Daily News (http://bit.ly/1yRs6QX ) that while traveling to the Hubble telescope pushed the space shuttle program to its maximum distance potential, new space vehicles are designed for longer distances from Earth.

Wilcutt, a 1974 graduate of Western Kentucky University, returned to his native state recently and spoke at Western Kentucky University’s Mass Media and Technology Hall. Joining Wilcutt were photojournalists Scott Andrews and his son, 2010 WKU graduate Philip Scott Andrews. They both chronicled shuttle missions - Philip’s father beginning in his teens and his son the last five years of the program.

The photographers used remote cameras to chronicle the behind-the-scenes action as astronauts put on their space suits and technicians worked on the details to launch the craft and bring it back to earth.

The space shuttle program endured the loss of two vehicles and crews - the explosion of Challenger shortly after launch Jan. 28, 1986, and the disintegration of Columbia on re-entry Feb. 1, 2003.

Shuttle missions had become so routine that when the Challenger exploded, Andrews said he was only one of about 10 photojournalists chronicling the event. Wilcutt said the astronauts who strapped into the vehicles were constantly aware of the dangers. The people who worked on the shuttle missions were called “blue-collar guys launching spaceships” by Philip Scott Andrews.

“People think they are all rocket scientists,” the younger Andrews said.

The Andrews’ photo exhibit on the main floor of the Mass Media Technology Hall uses color, black-and-white and video to chronicle several shuttle mission moments on the ground, including when the retired shuttles were transported through America to their final resting places in museums.

From hundreds of thousands of images, the father-son duo selected 75 pictures that were then pared down to about 50 for the exhibit, which continues through Nov. 8.

An important NASA test flight is planned for December using the new launch vehicle that Wilcutt said has the capability to speed astronauts to Mars in half the time originally predicted. The veteran of four shuttle missions, two as commander and two as pilot, said the biggest issue being explored in what he called the “deep space” missions is how to adequately protect the crew from radiation.

The legacy of the shuttle program is the technology that evolved during the 30 years, Wilcutt said.

“For every dollar spent, we have gotten about a $7 return,” Wilcutt said.

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Information from: Daily News, http://www.bgdailynews.com

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