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After the diploma: Kentucky public school achievers
Jefferson County grad still flying high
Kentucky School Advocate
Terry Wilcutt, the first Kentucky native in NASA’s astronaut corps, told a group of Barren County business leaders in 2014 that the No. 1 factor preventing people from becoming astronauts is they “don’t send in an application. You have to believe in yourself enough to apply,” the
Bowling Green Daily News
quoted him. He should know. Wilcutt, currently the chief of safety and mission assurance at NASA’s Johnson Space Center since 2011, logged four space shuttle flights from 1994–2000.
Wilcutt was born in Russellville but graduated from Jefferson County’s Southern High School in 1967. He received a bachelor’s degree in math from Western Kentucky University, where he later was inducted into its Hall of Distinguished Alumni and was presented with an honorary doctorate.
After graduating from college, Wilcutt taught high school math for two years in Louisville, and then joined the U.S. Marines, earning his flight wings in 1978. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (“Top Gun”) in 1986. He racked up over 6,600 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft before retiring with the rank of colonel.
Wilcutt became an astronaut in 1991. He was the pilot on two space shuttle missions, STS-68 (Endeavor) in 1994 and STS-79 (Atlantis) in 1996. He commanded two others, STS-89 (Endeavor) in 1998 and STS-106 (Atlantis) in 2000. He also served as NASA director of operations at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia; and at Johnson Space Center as chief of the Astronaut Office Shuttle Operations Branch, manager of safety and mission assurance for the Space Shuttle Program, and deputy director of safety and mission assurance, according to his NASA biography. In his current job, he is responsible for the development, implementation and oversight of safety and mission assurance policies and procedures for all NASA programs. At the time of his appointment, then-NASA Administrator Charles Bolden praised Wilcutt’s 20 years of experience in space flight and safety, saying he has “the integrity and courage necessary to lead what arguably is NASA’s most important support organization, the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.”
Wilcutt’s many honors include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Superior Service Medal, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal and American Astronautical Society Flight Achievement Award.
During that 2014 visit to Barren County, Wilcutt encouraged business owners to visit schools and talk to students, the Madisonville
reported. “Being a teacher was the most rewarding job I ever had,” he said.
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