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New Castle doctor among newest astronauts

| Monday, June 17, 2013, 1:09 p.m.
Andrew Morgan of New Castle is one of NASA’s new astronauts.
Andrew Morgan of New Castle is one of NASA’s new astronauts.

Clean-shaven and grinning, astronaut recruit Andrew Morgan donned fatigues to introduce himself to the world on Monday.

“Hi, my name is Andrew Morgan. I'm a major in the United States Army, and I'm a 2013 NASA astronaut candidate.”

Morgan, 37, of New Castle, an emergency physician practicing in Fort Belvoir, Va., and father of four, spoke in a video released by NASA to introduce its 21st recruiting class. A blend of scientists, physicians and military pilots, the eight-member group, four of whom are women, could be among the first to set foot on Mars.

Morgan and his fellow trainees will join 48 active astronauts in August at Johnson Space Center's astronaut corps in Houston, where Director Ellen Ochoa said American crews are scheduled to launch aboard Russian rockets to the International Space Station through at least 2020.

Missions could include commercial space flights as early as 2017 and adventures beyond Earth's orbit, including the development and launch of a multipurpose crew vehicle dubbed Orion, Ochoa said, coinciding with research that aims to capture an asteroid and put it on a stable orbit around the moon.

“All of this is directed at learning how to live below Earth's lower orbit,” she said, “and eventually developing the capabilities that would take us to Mars.”

The recruits were culled from more than 6,300 applications, the second most in NASA history, said Flight Crew Operations Director Janet Kavandi.

Of the initial group, 120 were subjected to a battery of medical tests and a one-hour interview. Less than 50 returned for a second interview.

An Army Ranger school graduate, Morgan is a certified rescue diver and ultramarathoner who has completed 380 parachute jumps with the Golden Knights, the Army's parachute team. He has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.

“I definitely felt drawn to being surrounded by the people I've encountered at NASA,” Morgan said. “They're just an incredibly talented group of people.”

Born in Morgantown, Morgan grew up in New Castle and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He earned a medical doctorate from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and was a flight surgeon for the Army special operations community.

Morgan is the latest in a long tradition of Western Pennsylvania astronauts, including Emsworth native Mike Fincke, who holds NASA's record for the most time in space, almost 382 days over a 16-year career.

The Class of 2013's Nicole Aunapu Mann, a major in the Marines, is an F/A 18 pilot serving at the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Md. Army Maj. Anne McClain is a helicopter pilot. The two other women, Christina Hammock and Jessica Meir, are scientists.

In addition to Morgan, the other three men have military backgrounds. They are former naval aviator Josh Cassada, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Victor Glover and Air Force Lt. Col. Tyler “Nick” Hague.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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