By EMMALEE C. TORISK
new castle, pa.
Dr. Andrew R. Morgan thought he faced impossible odds, as one of more than 6,000 applicants vying for eight slots in this year’s NASA astronaut class.
But after an 18-month application process — and a lot of emotional ups and downs — he found out just a few days ago that he’d been picked as one of the space program’s latest astronaut candidates.
“You doubt whether you’re even a contender — the applicant pool is so impressive,” said Dr. Morgan, a 37-year-old Army major who has worked as an emergency physician and flight surgeon. “I can’t believe they chose me.”
When his mother, Janice Morgan, heard the news, her first reaction was tears.
“It was a surprise because he just kept telling us, ‘Mom, it’s a long shot,’” she said. “I was a little bit speechless, then the tears started running. I’m very proud.”
She wasn’t too surprised by her oldest son’s accomplishment, though. He’s always been diligent and persistent, she said.
“Sometimes you look at him and say, ‘Andrew, where did you come from?’” Janice Morgan said. “He was very focused. He wanted it very badly, and we’re happy that he made it.”
Dr. Morgan said he’s long wanted to apply for a spot in the NASA Astronaut Corps, particularly because he knew he would be surrounded by outstanding, motivated and intelligent people — just as he was in the Army.
“They challenged me to be a better and better person,” he said. “The NASA Astronaut Corps is just like that.”
In August, the doctor — along with his wife, Stacey Morgan, and their four children — will move from their home in Fort Belvoir, Va., to Houston. There, he’ll join his new classmates for two years of basic training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Dr. Morgan said the next two years likely will include flight training, robotics instruction and Russian-language courses.
He said he’s most looking forward to getting to know his new teammates, many of whom he’s already met during the extensive interview process.
“It’s not often you know that these are people you’re going to be friends with for the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s pretty neat.”
Even as a child, Dr. Morgan was interested in space and dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
While he was growing up, his father, Dr. Richard Morgan, was an Air Force officer, moving his family around the country every couple of years. This gave his son the opportunity to visit the Johnson Space Center in Texas and see a shuttle land in California, but meant that he lacked a hometown — at least in the traditional sense, the elder Dr. Morgan said.
One place, though, represents home to the astronaut trainee, and has for all of his life: New Castle, Pa. It’s the place where his parents grew up, then moved back to after spending an entire military career elsewhere. It’s also where his grandparents still live.
“When it would come holiday time, they would say, ‘We’re coming home, and they meant our house,” said Betty Kay Maher, Andrew’s grandmother. “It was the only place that never changed.”
Although Dr. Morgan said his tie to New Castle is not direct, he’s proud to represent the region.
“I would’ve been happy to finish my career” in the Army, he said.
“This is an even greater calling. It’s the only thing in the world that I would leave my old career behind for. To be a part of [the astronaut corps] and space exploration and history, it’s all so compelling — and an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”