Associated Press
Crowds watch the space shuttle Discovery lift off from Kennedy Space Center in 2005.

SALT LAKE CITY — As NASA closes the book on America’s space shuttle program later this month, KUED is taking a look back at Utah’s unique relationship with the space shuttle.

Pulling from over 30 years of space shuttle coverage, KUED’s program takes an close look at the highs and lows experienced by those involved with the space shuttle. “To the Stars: Utah and the Space Shuttle,” scheduled to air Friday at 8:30 p.m., was produced and directed by Al Cutler and reported by Ken Verdoia.

According to Verdoia, KUED director of production, the program recognizes "the importance of the space program to the nation and to Utah.”

For many in Utah, the connection to the shuttle program began with shuttle flight by Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) in 1985. However, the state's participation started in 1973 when Brigham City-based Morton Thiokol was chosen to develop the solid rocket motors that would propel the shuttle into space. This selection would allow Utah to experience some of the ultimate highs of the shuttle program, but also some of the deepest lows.

The 1986 Challenger disaster focused the nation’s attention on Thiokol’s solid rocket design. It also focused President Ronald Reagan’s attention on getting NASA back on track. For this important task, President Reagan turned to a man with Utah connections. Former University of Utah president James C. Fletcher was given the responsibility of getting NASA’s management under control and restoring the American public’s faith in NASA.

Utah had other close ties to the shuttle program, producing two shuttle astronauts with Utah connections. Utah native Don Lind was aboard Challenger’s 1985 flight and Mary Cleave, a USU research associate, flew aboard Atlantis twice the same year. In addition, Utah State University and the University of Utah participated in NASA’s Get Away Special program, which sent experiments into space aboard shuttle flights.

According to KUED’s program, Utah’s role in the space shuttle program is reflected in NASA’s motto, "Per Aspera ad Astra,” which translates to “through hardships to the stars.”