When Andrew Morgan launches into space for the first time, he’ll be doing so on a day with enormous symbolic significance.
The NASA astronaut and U.S. Army Col. will be part of an international crew embarking to the International Space Station on July 20, the 50th anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest achievements – the Apollo 11 moon landing.
The significance of the day is not lost on Morgan, particularly in a year when NASA has announced its intentions to return humans to the surface of the moon within five years.
“It’s very meaningful for me to be able to commemorate the Apollo 50th anniversary by launching on that day,” he told The Globe Post. “Coming through the hatch on that day, with an international crew, I think there’s a lot of symbolism there.”
A New Chapter for Space Exploration
Though the date of Morgan’s launch was specifically chosen to commemorate the past, he said he feels he has the opportunity to be part of an exciting time for the future of space exploration. And while the last great age of exploration was driven largely by competition between nations, Morgan and his crewmates said they hope this new moment will be marked by cooperation.
NASA has said that its next mission to the moon will include an international crew – “an interesting contrast to the landing fifty years ago,” Morgan said in a press conference on Friday, adding that he views the landing as an achievement for all of humanity, not just the United States.
Morgan’s crewmate Luca Parmitano, a veteran astronaut from Italy representing the European Space Agency, said the international nature of today’s space missions is an asset to science.
“We can achieve a lot more by cooperating together than we ever can from competing,” he said.
The third member of the crew is Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Space Agency. While cosmonauts and astronauts were once rivals during the Cold War’s “space race,” Morgan and Skvortsov find themselves united around a common mission, even as Russia and the United States remain adversaries on Earth.
“Conversationally amongst ourselves, what we speak is ‘Renglish,’” Morgan said, adding he has a great relationship with his Russian counterpart. “It works fantastically.”
We apply virtual reality to several types of spaceflight training. Here I am practicing to “fly” a jet pack-like device we can use to rescue ourselves back to the ISS in the unlikely event the cable tethering us to the airlock fails during a #spacewalk. Train for the worst case! pic.twitter.com/U7Ucj41Uyw
— Andrew Morgan (@AstroDrewMorgan) April 8, 2019
Although the administration of President Donald Trump has signaled its support for an expansion of civilian, international exploration, it has also announced its intention to create a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the military – a move critics say would revive nationalist tensions in space.
“I understand that conversation and why the Department of Defense is having it,” Morgan said when asked about the Space Force. “However, I’m here detailed to NASA, a civilian organization dedicated to the peaceful exploration of space and I’m going to continue to serve in that capacity.”
What’s the Point?
For many, outer space continues to represent a new frontier for humanity and is a source of wonder and inspiration.
But there are more pragmatic reasons to continue to fund space expeditions as well.
The International Space Station primarily serves as a unique laboratory for scientists to learn about the nature of the space environment, which is difficult to replicate on Earth.
The insights gleaned from experiments performed there help scientists understand how the human body (and mind) reacts to that environment and are invaluable to planning future missions, including a potential manned expedition to Mars.
There may be no better view of Earth than from the International Space Station. In honor of #EarthDay, enjoy these photos taken by @NASA_Astronauts from 250 miles above our home planet. You can search astronaut photography here: https://t.co/QU0gAlONAb. #PictureEarth pic.twitter.com/NtEPQzbYyj
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) April 22, 2019
During his nine-month stay in space, Morgan will be the subject of a continuing experiment on fluid shifts inside the body and how they’re affected by microgravity.
But these experiments can also have major implications down on the ground. As a former emergency physician for the Army’s Special Operations forces, Morgan has an extensive medical background and will be continuing an experiment involving the ISS’ new biofabrication facility.
The facility is essentially a 3D printer for tissues and organs, not dissimilar to those found in many laboratories on Earth. But Morgan explained that gravity poses a challenge to the process of artificially growing cells into fully functioning organs which could one day replace damaged ones in people.
“But in space, in microgravity, we don’t have those constraints. So I think it shows great promise,” he said.
“You can imagine as a physician with a background in combat trauma and seeing what some of our soldiers have gone through over the last few decades, this is really fantastic.”
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