In 2019, the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft was primed for departure. The mission would mark the 60th expedition to the International Space Station and U.S. Military Academy Class of 1998 graduate and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Astronaut Andrew Morgan’s first spaceflight, Morgan said.
He added that, at the time, it had been 50 years since the Apollo 11 spacecraft carried Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin into orbit and toward Earth’s cosmic neighbor, the moon.
Though the mission was different in scale, Morgan was ready to take on the onus of following his forebearers in venturing out to the cosmos.
Morgan and his crew members, Luca Parmitano of European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, embarked on an interstellar journey to the ISS where they researched human biology, Earth science, physical sciences and technology development, Morgan explained.
After conducting seven spacewalks for a total of nearly 46 hours, orbiting the Earth 4,352 times and traveling 115.3 million miles, Morgan finally returned to West Point on Sept. 8 at Robinson Auditorium as a guest speaker to provide lifelong insight to cadets on what it means to serve honorably and overcome obstacles.
“My journey to stand here today as a colonel in the United States Army began the same as yours. Twenty-five years ago, I sat in those various seats ... the academy has never looked more beautiful, and cadets, all of you sitting out there, have never looked more impressive,” Morgan said. “One very important, unchanging thing that connects my generation to yours and every other cadet, going back to 1802, is the desire to serve our country and follow the exciting journey that service brings anywhere on the planet or off the planet ...”
To underscore the importance of the U.S. Army’s involvement in space exploration, Morgan delved into the history of the space race during the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union.
Additionally, he spoke about other USMA graduate astronauts’ notable contributions, such as USMA Class of 1950 Frank Borman, the first West Point graduate to reach orbital space, and USMA Class of 1951 Buzz Aldrin, the only West Point graduate to walk on the moon.
Nevertheless, over the course of 60 years, the U.S. Army has contributed immensely to the advancement of space exploration. However, success came with the ultimate sacrifice, with more than 17 American astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty, Morgan said.
“All of you in this audience understand that service sometimes requires the ultimate sacrifice,” Morgan added. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t be at this academy. However, our nation acknowledges those sacrifices by re-evaluating, reflecting, remembering and continuing with our advancements.”
Morgan added dozens of West Point graduates flew as mission specialists on special operations to conduct spacewalks and robotics operations to deliver payloads to orbit or help construct the ISS.
The ISS is currently America’s only actively flying human spaceflight program with more than 20 years of continuous human occupation, Morgan said.
“The ISS is an enduring symbol of international cooperation and doing the impossible together, seemingly against the odds of physics, and sometimes against the odds of human politics,” Morgan said. “Back in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the doors opened for an ambitious collaboration between Russia and the United States. It combined the best of our two engineering philosophies and jointly connected this ambitious spaceship (ISS), one module and one second at a time.”
As the event culminated, Morgan took photos with cadets and had an impromptu discussion about what it’s like to eat, work out, shower and use the bathroom in space. He also explained the physical effects space has on the human body.
“Through a range of scientific practices, we have learned much about what happens to the human body as it safely endures the harsh elements of space,” Morgan explained. “Through material science, technology demonstrations, the biomedical field we were able to learn about what happens to the body. There’s also some human research where we were the actual subjects. I volunteered out of duty and also out of my own interest as a medical doctor.”
On that note, Morgan concluded his discussion and said he was happy to meet the cadets, believing that the country will be in strong, intelligent and courageous hands once they commission.
“For me, the country’s welfare in the future will be a family affair. My son is with me here, spending the night in the Corps. He’s an applicant right now and hopes to be in the Class of 2026,” Morgan said. “The cadets are impressive every time I meet them, and it gives me great hope for the future of our military and for the future of our country to know that there are young leaders like this here who are so accomplished and so eager to become leaders of character in this country.”