NEW CASTLE — As an elementary school student, Andrew Morgan dreamed of being an astronaut.
“But as you grow, you move on to more realistic goals,” he said. “Later I knew that I wanted to be a doctor in the military.”
He never lost sight of that second goal, nor his original one. Ultimately, he achieved both.
The man who refers to New Castle as home is part of NASA’s 2013 class of eight astronauts.
His parents, Richard and Janice Morgan, live in Neshannock Township. They’ve spent all their lives there, except for the 24 years that Richard served in the Air Force while Andrew and his two brothers were growing up.
Janice Morgan said her eldest son always was interested in space.
“He drew of lot of pictures about it and was very much into Star Wars,” she said.
As a youngster, Morgan visited Johnson Space Center with his family. A family photograph shows Janice with sons Andrew and Ben holding toy space shuttles.
Morgan’s not playing with toy spaceships anymore.
“Do I relish that thought of Andrew being shot into space?” asks his mom. “As a mother, I worry, but I know that’s what he wants to do.
“I trust the Lord. That’s where I find my solace.”
Janice Morgan knew that the odds were against her son, as they were for each of the 6,100 candidates for the eight positions.
“He kept telling me that it would be a longshot, but he kept making it through each step,” she said. “When Andrew sets his mind to pursue something, he goes after it whole heartedly.”
NASA last added to its astronaut numbers in 2009, and before that, in 2004.
Janice Morgan was overwhelmed emotionally by her son’s phone call, bringing her to tears.
Richard Morgan was proud, but not surprised.
“When he sets out to do something, it gets done,” the new astronaut’s father said. “I always believed he’d be selected.”
The military put the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Morgan through some of the toughest training, including Ranger School, not just in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, but also in hard core training.
“I’ve taken care of many brave soldiers in combat, unfortunately not all of them made it.”
Morgan wrestled and swam at Dover, (Del.) High School. Later, he was a member of the cadet demonstration and competitive parachute team at West Point.
He continues to swim long endurance races and runs marathons
Morgan is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and earned his doctorate at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. He has experience as an emergency physician and flight surgeon for special operations forces.
He also is in the process of completing a sports medicine fellowship.
Despite the family moving every three years, Janice Morgan said her son has a close bond with relatives.
“He flourished in that lifestyle,” she said. “I know a lot of people don’t understand that.
“We have friends all over the place.”
Although he was born in Morgantown, W.Va., where his father was finishing dental school, Morgan lived there only as an infant. He graduated from high school in Dover.
When asked by NASA officials for the name of his home town, Morgan answered without hesitation, “New Castle, Pa.”
NASA has a goal for its astronauts for the next 15 years, going beyond earth’s orbit, including a potential trip to Mars and traveling to an asteroid. “The President laid those out as our objectives,” Morgan said.
Richard Morgan, a retired Air Force colonel, now works as a dentist at Primary Health in Neshannock Township.
He acknowledges a big difference between father and son.
“Andrew is a self starter and a go-getter. He’s got his life planned out and he makes things happen,” he said. “I’m more laid back.”
Although he never gets too excited, he does admit there is one thing that may cause his heart rate to spike.
“When Andrew is launched into space, that will probably do it.”