Army Col. Drew Morgan’s list of accomplishments is extensive: graduate of West Point and member of the school’s title-winning parachute team; ER doctor; battalion surgeon for 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), where he maintained his flight, dive and airborne qualifications; deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa; husband; father ... and NASA astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station.
Yet Morgan, who was hurtling through space at 17,150 miles per hour Wednesday and completed a harrowing 7-hour space walk earlier this month, choked up at the beginning of a live link with students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Maryland, where he is an alumnus.
“It’s such an honor to be with you. I have tears in my eyes,” Morgan said, holding up a pennant bearing the USUHS logo. “The Uniformed Services University is a center of excellence for military medicine, and I’m so proud to be a part of your team.”
Morgan has been in space since July 20, when he, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano blasted off from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz MS spacecraft. Like all astronauts on the ISS, Morgan is a jack-of-all-trades, conducting spacewalks, working on robotics, repairing the station’s systems and managing research.
But on Wednesday, he took time out to discuss what it’s like to be in space with soon-to-be military physicians.
Commissioned in 1998, Morgan’s spent several tours overseas, deploying with special operations forces to Afghanistan, Iraq and several African countries. On those deployments, he used his skills as an emergency medical doctor to set bones, stitch wounds and save lives. In space, however, he uses his hands to install refrigerator-sized batteries on the outside of the space station, run experiments and occasionally deals with bumps, bruises and other minor ailments that affect astronauts.
“An additional duty is crew medical officer, so when there is a physician on board, obviously I’m a natural choice for that," he said.
When he’s not conducting long space walks, Morgan largely is doing research, with more than 300 experiments on the ISS, including biological and human studies that have a goal of facilitating medical breakthroughs and understanding the effects of long-duration space travel.