NEW CASTLE — Lt. Col. Andrew Morgan always dreamed about going to space. In July 2019, his dream becomes reality.
Morgan, who has always called New Castle home due to deep family ties in the community despite never having lived there, will be living and working on the International Space Station, orbiting 245 miles above the Earth’s surface, as part of a seven-month mission.
He was selected by NASA to become an astronaut in 2013, with the expectation of going to space after spending close to a decade training. Morgan achieved a space mission in six years.
“It is a big relief, but also extremely exciting,” Morgan said of going to space. “When my class was selected five years ago, we were told it could be eight to 10 years before we would go to space. I will have flown to space within six years, exceeding expectations. Flying earlier is way better than flying later.”
Morgan is scheduled to launch on Soyuz 59S in the summer of 2019 and will serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 60 and 61.
He was humbled upon learning he would be representing his country in space.
“However I am serving in space, I do it as a real honor,” Morgan said. “NASA has selected us to do this on behalf of the country and the planet. ISS is an international effort. It is the most magnificent example of international cooperation.”
Morgan knows the nature of the experiments he will take part in aboard the space station, and his medical background fits perfectly into some of the projects.
“I don’t know exactly, but I know in general,” Morgan said. “There are always experiments going on on board. It is a national laboratory that is constantly turning all types of science experiments – physics and biomedical make up the greatest proportion.
“Biomedical science I can speak to more accurately because of my medical background. We are the subjects of the experiments, and we are interested in how plants and animals respond to micro gravity over a long period of time. We want to explore space and we need to learn more about how our body reacts to micro gravity.”
While Morgan will never stop training for missions, he is working to fine tune skills that will be vital during his time aboard the station, including learning a foreign language.
“There is very little I am training in that I didn’t already have a foundation in during my initial candidate training,” Morgan said. “Our basic qualifications, we study the Russian language as English and Russian are the most spoken languages on the International Space Station. We do robotics training as we will work to capture visiting vehicles, support of space walks, which is another important skill I will continue to hone.”
While all the training requires strong focus, none more so than spacewalking.
“Space walks are very dangerous and a very important piece of work we do because of repairs that can only be done by astronauts,” Morgan said. “We study the systems of the space station and how to respond in emergencies.”
“I am learning to live in space, how to exercise, how to maintain a food supply and steerage on board,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of things we have to remember.”
First step into new frontier
The single-most exciting aspect of being on the International Space Station for Morgan is that first space walk.
“The pinnacle moment is when we go out, especially that first time,” Morgan said. “When I go out of the airlock and see Earth below me, that is going to be breathtaking.
“I think of all the things I will do in space, that is going to be the most demanding, physically and mentally. There are multiple space walks planned. I may do several. I am actively training with one of my crewmates who will be on board with me, who is a veteran Italian astronaut.”
Aboard the International Space Station, the gravity is significantly less than that on Earth. NASA has a unique way for astronauts to train for space walks.
“One of the primary ways we train for space walks, we have a very large indoor pool, 40 feet deep,” Morgan said. “It is a neutral bouyancy laboratory with mock-up pieces of the International Space Station.
“We put on the space suit, we pressurize it, and it creates the illusion of micro gravity. We are supported by a team of divers that help take care of the tasks to make it as real as possible and to keep us safe.”
Space flight is an aspect of life few get to experience, and Morgan is ready to savor it.
“I am looking forward to just having a once-in-a-lifetime, seven-month experience with some great crewmates where we have trained together, depend on each other and depend on for our lives,” Morgan said.
But, there is one opportunity Morgan is not going to let slip by.
“There is a window looking down on Earth, and we are doing an orbit every hour and a half, and I am looking forward to being able to look over the entire planet,” Morgan said. “I am definitely looking forward to doing that space walk. I have always relished a challenge, and this is one of the greatest I’ve ever faced.”
While Morgan is in space, he hopes he gathers a large following from western Pennsylvania on social media, especially Twitter, where it has become custom that astronauts share pictures of Earth from their high-arching perch in the atmosphere.
“I do expect to communicate some of my pictures and thoughts on social media,” Morgan said. “I would definitely like to have a following from western Pennsylvania and build interest in that part of the country.
“What is unique is that I will be launching on a Russian vehicle and there is a good chance we could see some of the early test flights of the next U.S vehicles from SpaceX and Boeing’s CST starliner. Both could be making visits to the International Space Station, so that will be fairly historic.
“Those flights will be some of the first missions to have launched from U.S. soil since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.”
Morgan is the son of Dr. Richard and Janice Morgan, who live in Neshannock Township and are graduates of Neshannock High School. The couple returned to New Castle after Richard served 24 years in the military.
“When my Dad was in the Air Force, New Castle was home,” Morgan said. “There is where I went to visit my grandparents. I have four children of my own. New Castle is their home. They are coming home this summer to visit my parents. I have always thought of New Castle as home.”
He is the grandson of Warren Morgan and Jeremiah Maher, who also served their country. In fact, Andrew Morgan is the first Army physician to be selected as an astronaut. His brother, Ben, served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“New Castle is special for us,” Morgan said. “My children will be there this summer, and will likely be at Pearson Park fireworks on July 4.
“I never lived there, never went to school there, but it is home to me.”
One thing about Morgan’s love for New Castle is true, next summer he will get to peer down at the place he calls home from a vantage point few will ever experience.