USAG-KA Commander Shares Science and Space Stories at Child & Youth Services Summer Space Jam
U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Commander Col. Drew Morgan paid a visit to the Child & Youth Services School-Aged Care Summer Camp to share his experiences working and living in space with young island residents during the camp's Space Jam event, June 30, 2023. (Photo Credit: James Brantley) VIEW ORIGINAL

U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll Garrison Commander Col. Drew Morgan visited with students enrolled in the USAG-KA Child and Youth Services School-Aged Care Summer Camp for a question and answer session during their Space Jam. The eager students asked Morgan questions about life in outer space.

SAC: How long was your spacewalk?

Col. Morgan: First, I’ll talk about how we train for space walks. That is the thing we spend the most time training.

We put on our space suit on Earth, and they put us in a giant swimming pool, and we practice diving. All astronauts are divers because that’s how we train for space. It makes it feel like being weightless in space.

I did hours and hours of training and then when I actually did a real spacewalk, I was outside in that space suit for more than six hours. We also put that space suit on for three to four hours before to get ready for the spacewalk. I wore that space suit for 10 hours the day of the spacewalk.

SAC: What did you eat in space?

Col. Morgan: We have a lot of different kinds of food similar to the food we eat in the Army when we go to the field—all of our food is in a package; we warm it up and rip open the package.

Every time you eat in space it’s like a big playground. You get to eat and play with your food every day. I can take a Hot Tamale candy and float it to someone else and they can catch it in their mouth. I can throw it in a straight line. To do that on Earth, I would have to toss it up in an arch [to get it to his target].

If I was outside the International Space Station, and I took a Hot Tamale with me, and I tossed it in the direction the station was orbiting, it would go on, more or less forever. It would also be in orbit around the Earth for a long, long time—a Hot Tamale satellite.

SAC: What kind of rocket did you go to space on?

Col. Morgan: The rocket I launched in left Asia, and it landed on dirt, not on the water. We do have rockets at NASA that land in the water but some land on dirt.

SAC: What about the underwater capsule you used for training?

Col. Morgan: We do water survival training in case we land in the water. I’d have to know how to get out and inflate my vest so the rescue divers can pull me out.

SAC: What does it feel like when you get back to Earth?

Col. Morgan: So, nine months in space of not feeling the Earth’s gravity pull you down makes you feel very heavy when you return. We do a good job of exercising our muscles and keeping our bones healthy, but our balance is a little off.

Part of our balance system is inside, near your brain, inside your inner ear. That helps tell your body which way is up or down, and when you move your head, you sense that it’s moving.

In space, that part of your brain after a couple days just kind of turns off.

All of a sudden, I go upside down and my body doesn’t register that I’m upside down. My body thinks everything is okay. But when you come back to Earth, now your body feels dizzy like you’re spinning all over the place for about a week. I could walk, but sometimes I needed help.

SAC: In space, when you’re spinning, do you feel like you’re going to barf?

Col. Morgan: Because the part of your inner ear kind of goes to sleep, it’s harder to feel like you’re going to barf. When I came back to Earth, I felt like I wanted to barf, and I did a couple times.

SAC: Do you eat freeze-dried ice cream in space?

Col. Morgan: It’s not actually part of our regular food supply that comes up to the space station but I happen to be a big fan of ice cream.

There is no way to get it except for freeze-dried. I had to have Mrs. Morgan, the first lady of Kwajalein, send me some in a care package. We have visiting spacecraft bring us a resupply. One of the things I wanted was freeze-dried ice cream. It tastes good especially when you don’t have ice cream.

SAC: What is it like in the Army?

Col. Morgan: I decided to be an Army Soldier before I decided to become an astronaut. That is what I really wanted to be when I grew up.

I became a medical doctor in the Army. The Army paid for my medical school, they paid for my specialty in emergency medicine, and gave me all of these great experiences. I went all over the world and then NASA selected me to be an astronaut. I’m still in the Army. I was in the Army the entire 10 years I was at NASA, and now I am here.

SAC: What happened to the artifact you took to space?

Col. Morgan: I took a lot of things with me to space to represent different parts of my life and career and one was a WWII arm band that a medic wore in the war in Europe 80 years ago.

I took it with me to represent my history as a combat medical doctor. I flew it in space, took pictures of it and brought it back to Earth, and gave it to the National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

SAC: Have you ever played a board game in space?

Col. Morgan: Yes, but we have to have magnets to hold the pieces on the board. I don’t have a sister, but one of my crewmates, Christina Cook is like my sister. I flew in space wither for seven months and she loves Scrabble. We played on a magnetic version.

SAC: What was it like to be on the parachute team (at West Point)?

Col. Morgan: That was the coolest thing I did as a cadet at West Point was to be on the parachute team.

I learned how to jump out of airplanes and do dangerous things safely, but the most important thing I learned to do was how to be a good teammate.

Those teammates of mine who were on the team with me are still my best friends. They have been my friends for 30 years and a lot of them dialed in to see my change of command ceremony a few days ago.

I carried being a good teammate to the astronaut corps because that is one of the things we value the most in an astronaut: being a good teammate. By that, I mean be a good friend, be somebody that someone wants to spend a long time with in a small, enclosed space. Imagine being trapped in this classroom for nine months. Who would you want to be in here with?

One student in the class chose two friends to be with them for nine months.

Col. Morgan said, “That’s what you want, to be that kind of friend.”

SAC: What does the Milky Way look like in space?

Col. Morgan: All of our windows on the ISS are oriented to look back at Earth, but when I was on my spacewalk, I was above the space station.

I had a very clear view while we were going around the Earth on the nighttime side. The earth’s atmosphere usually makes our view of the starts a little harder to see. We have some of the clearest skies you can imagine on Earth here in Kwajalein. But in space, you’re not looking through the atmosphere. It’s perfectly clear. You can see the Milky Way much more clearly when the lighting is just right.

SAC: What did the rocket ship look like?

Col. Morgan: So, the rocket ship that I launched on was much smaller than a Saturn V. A Saturn V rocket is a rocket we used 50 years ago to launch astronauts to the moon.

It was a really big rocket. The one I launched in was made to orbit the Earth so it doesn’t have to be as big. The Russians made the rocket I was on because they are our friends in space and they have been doing it the same way since the beginning of their space program 50 years ago. I launched on a rocket that had the technology in it that was older than me. It is a very safe, reliable rocket.

SAC: What does it feel like to float in space?

Col. Morgan: Initially, it feels very dizzy and disoriented but after that it starts to feel normal. It’s really cool and I can go upside down, flip my feet on the ceiling, and I wouldn’t feel like I was upside down. I can push off of a wall and fly to the other side of the space station. It’s really fun.

SAC: How do we return the rocket ship to Earth?

Col. Morgan: The rocket I launched on, when it burns up all the gas in the bottom, discards it and they fall back to the ground. We have a rocket now that NASA uses made by the SpaceX Corporation that, after it burns up the fuel in the bottom stage, it lands itself still standing up, automatically. Then they reuse it, they fill up with fuel and use it again. They are recycling the big parts of the rocket.

SAC: What are the windows like on the International Space Station?

Col. Morgan: All the windows are protected because if they weren’t, without the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere, if we had sunlight coming in, you would get burned almost instantly. Our windows are made thick to protect us from the sun.

SAC: How do you use the bathroom in space?

Col. Morgan: I was waiting for that question. The short answer is ‘very carefully.’ You are used to going to the bathroom and gravity just makes it go into the toilet. So, number one requires a vacuum tube. The urine goes into the receptacle and gets sucked up inside and it goes into a container.

Then, guess what we do with it?

(The children responded with, “You recycle it into drinking water.”)

It tastes just fine; it’s very clean water. Guess what? We drink rainwater here predominantly but at home in the U.S., the water we drink comes through a sewage plant, waste water treatment plant and a drinking water treatment plant. All water eventually gets recycled. We just do it in a very enclosed environment in space.

SAC: Did you see another planet in space?

Col. Morgan: You can see planets from the surface of the Earth—Mars and Venus on a good night. They look about the same from the ISS. The thing that we get the clearest view of is the Earth and the Moon.

Those were the best things to look at. If I was flying around Mars or the Moon for nine months, it would be a boring view. We live on the most beautiful planet in the solar system.

SAC: Were you scared?

Col. Morgan: I was a little nervous but the training is really good so I was really confident on the day that I launched.

SAC: When you’re training under the water, how do you keep from floating up?

Col. Morgan: They add weights to our space suits to help make them neutrally buoyant. Positively buoyant means we float; negatively buoyant means we sink to the bottom.

We don’t want to be either of those. We want to be neutrally buoyant—you want to stay in the middle. We have divers who are not in space suits who have SCUBA tanks and masks on to make sure we stay neutrally buoyant by either adding or subtracting weights to get us just right.

I have this 350-pound suit on me and we stay safe the entire time.

SAC: How do you breathe in space?

Col. Morgan: I breathe as comfortably in space as I do on Earth. You wouldn’t know any difference. The air around us in the ISS is just like on Earth but the content has a little more oxygen in it and a little bit more carbon dioxide. It all feels the same. Outside the space station, there is no air. We call that a vacuum.

Col. Morgan told children in the classroom that if they see him on the island, they can come up and ask him any questions. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”