An Army Special Forces surgeon and former military brat is getting ready to blast off into space on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Col. Andrew Morgan, a veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq, is set for a July 20 launch on a nine-month mission to the International Space Station.
It will be the New Castle, Pa., native's first time in space. He'll launch with his Russian and Italian crewmates aboard a Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to NASA.
In a phone interview Friday, Morgan said he feels fortunate to be part of such an auspicious launch.
"The mission starts on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing," he said. "Coming through the hatch on that day carries a lot of symbolism."
The West Point graduate plans to draw on his military experience during the mission, he said.
Morgan got an early taste of military life as a student at Woodbridge American High School on RAF Woodbridge when his Air Force officer father was stationed in the United Kingdom.
His resume includes work with the Army's Golden Knights parachute team and a stint as battalion surgeon for 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), the Desert Eagles, before he joined NASA in 2013.
"I chose to serve my country when I was 18 years old and this is a continuation of that service," he said of his upcoming mission.
Time in Iraq and Afghanistan was good preparation for space, he said.
"There are a lot of similarities between being deployed and going to space," he said.
The countdown to his space flight has involved 18 months of intense training. Preparing an astronaut's family for a space mission is comparable to helping a military family deal with a deployment, Morgan said.
"My kids are aged 8 to 15 so they will remember this in a way that they didn't necessarily remember my military deployments," he said.
When he gets back to Earth, Morgan is planning a reset that will mirror the way military units refit after they redeploy, he said. When troops return from deployments they typically get some time off before commencing a new training cycle to get ready for future missions.
The space station trip will involve numerous experiments such as studying the way fluid moves through the body and growing cells and organs in microgravity.
Morgan will also be talking to earthbound servicemembers during his time in orbit.
There's heightened interest in space in the military community since President Donald Trump announced plans to create a Space Force last summer.
"I understand why the [Department of Defense] is having that conversation," Morgan said but added: "I'm detailed to NASA, a civilian organization dedicated to the peaceful exploration of space. I'm going to continue to serve in that capacity."
Vice President Mike Pence's recent vow to put an American back on the moon within five years is doable, he said.
"Returning to the moon's surface in five years is an ambitious goal. I know it is one I can accomplish," Morgan said.
The message he'll give the troops he talks to from space is that he's an astronaut because of the skills he acquired as a military officer and experiences such as "jumping out of planes, diving, working around aircraft, medical training," he said.
However, the skills he expects to draw most heavily upon are to do with leadership, taking care of people and being a good teammate, he said.
"These skills are things I have leaned on the most," he said.
Troops might be curious how space food compares to the Meals Read to Eat they consume on the battlefield, said Morgan, who subsisted on the field rations for 60 days at Ranger School, and rates them highly.
"The Army recognizes that soldiers travel on their stomachs," he said.
Space food is similar to MREs, but there's more variety, since the other nations sending astronauts to the space station bring their own food, he said.
The space mission is a "great honor" but, Morgan said that long after he returns he will cherish his time in combat with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
"It was the greatest honor of my life," he said.