Army ER doctor chosen for 21st class of astronauts
Army ER doctor chosen for 21st class of astronauts
Dr. Andrew Morgan provides medical assistance to Afghan civilians during his 2009 deployment. (Courtesy photo)
by Kristin Ellis
Fort Belvoir Community Hospital Public Affairs Office

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (July 2, 2013) -- An Army staff emergency physician at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital was selected as an astronaut candidate with the NASA class of 2013.

Dr. Andrew Morgan was chosen out of more than 6,000 applicants and is the first Army physician to be selected for the Astronaut Corps. This class of candidates received one of the highest number of applications ever, second only to the 1978 space shuttle program selection.

Morgan’s goal is to be a competent mission specialist capable of operating in a variety of mission scenarios. Though NASA will use the fact that Morgan is a physician for collateral duties, he will not serve in an exclusively medical role.

“Our space program is a source of national pride and demonstrates its technological prowess while fostering international cooperation,” the Army major said. “It is equally important that I represent the Army Medical Department and the Army in the nation’s space program, as well as inspire a new generation of students to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Morgan was also a sports medicine fellow in civilian deferred graduate medical education at Virginia Commonwealth University-affiliated Fairfax Family Practice in Fairfax, Va.

Astronaut selection begins more than 18 months before the start of a candidate class with a paper resume on USAjobs.gov. Military personnel initially apply through their respective services before competing with the general pool of applicants.
In Fall 2012, NASA culled the numbers down to 120 initial interviewees and brought them down to Johnson Space Center is Houston, Texas, for initial medical testing, language aptitude testing (the astronaut candidates will learn Russian), and a board-style interview.

Eventually, after more aptitude and medical testing, the group was narrowed down to a target number of eight astronaut candidates.
Morgan received news of his selection through a phone call from former astronaut and chair of the selection board, Dr. Janet Kavandi.

“Her first question in the phone call was, ‘We wanted to know if you’d like to come to Houston and join our team?’ Morgan remembered. “I couldn’t believe it; the thought that I had been chosen choked me up. It was surreal.”

Morgan had to keep his selection under wraps until the official NASA press release came out 10 days later.

At the end of July, Morgan and his family will move to Houston, with training set to begin the second week of August. Once there, astronaut candidates’ training consists of flight training, Russian language proficiency, extra-vehicular activity (space walking), robotics, and other technical briefings. He and the other seven selectees will undergo two years of candidate training before becoming “full-fledged astronauts.”

The medical standards are even more stringent now than they were during the days of the space shuttle missions. Space shuttle missions were typically between seven and 14 days. Now, missions to the International Space Station last at least five to six months. The “long duration spaceflight” physical is extensive and includes all the rigorous testing of a standard flight physical, plus MRI and ultrasound imaging of most organs in the body.

“It’s the most thorough physical on Earth,” he said.

Morgan, a graduate of West Point and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, credits his experience in the military as a major factor in his selection. In this class of astronaut candidates, six out of eight are either active duty or had extensive military background.

“That says a lot for the type of people in today’s military and the experiences that it provides,” he said. “Military service members make great astronaut candidates because we are taught discipline, perseverance, teamwork, and coolness under pressure from the earliest points in our careers.”

Morgan has met about half of his fellow astronaut candidates during various phases of the selection process but all have been in touch by email since the day after their selection.

“I know they are ‘friends for life’ kind of people,” he said. “It’s a good thing since we’ll probably spend the next 10 to 15 years of careers together.”