Stacey Morgan and her four children watch Drew Morgan's July 2019 launch.

Stacey Morgan recounts hitting ‘wall’ on her husband’s spaceflight

enlarge / Stacey Morgan and her four children watch Drew Morgan’s July 2019 launch.

Stacey Morgan

The first thing NASA’s new astronauts learn is that there is no “me” on the team.As part of nearly two years of training before qualifying for the mission, prospective astronauts were told no Use the space agency or its spaceflight identity for self-promotion.

Missions come first, and while the astronauts may be the most visible part of the NASA team, they’re there to represent the agency rather than themselves. Some recent astronauts who have used spaceflight successfully to raise their public profile — like Chris Hadfield and Scott Kelly — do so because they know they never want to fly again. That’s not to say Hadfield and Kelly weren’t great astronauts or team players. Astronauts who just want to get their hands on future missions don’t draw attention to themselves.

This ironclad rule led to a recent book by Stacey Morgan, astronaut’s wife, worth noting. In the book, Morgan tells the story of her relationship with her husband, Drew Morgan, who both met at West Point as undergraduates. The narrative includes stories about their four children, life lessons, and biblical references; but the heart of the book is Morgan’s spaceflight from July 2019 to April 2020.

space division

The most revealing aspect of the book is that Stacey Morgan discusses at length her relationship with Drew and her children, and how his spaceflight changed that relationship. For example, due to the space station’s schedule and long working hours, the best time for Drew to get home is in the last hour before he goes to bed, around 9pm GMT. Getting home, in the fall of 2019, meant he called home around 4 p.m. in Houston. This is the busiest part of the day at the Morgans, after school, before meals.

“I really wanted to talk to Drew, hear from the staff, tell him about my day, but it was a bad time. I needed to send Amelia to a group in ninety minutes before dinner Just getting started,” Stacey Morgan wrote. “Parenting issues this season are so heavy and pile up so fast. Lying, teen heartbreak, bullying, friendship disappointments, GPA, puberty hormones, body image, college prep.”

The couple kept in touch over the 2019 vacation, but eventually “hit a wall.” Morgan likened it to the final miles of a marathon, which she knew had to end but never seemed to end. She completed the mission in early January, three and a half months before Drew Morgan’s Soyuz spacecraft landed.

“I looked out the window and saw grey skies and brown dormant grass,” she wrote. “Everything is crap. There’s nothing to look forward to on the next few pages of my desk calendar. Nothing exciting. Not even a good dinner. I think it stinks. And there’s no end in sight. I hit a wall.”

When astronauts go into space, spouses are left behind and largely forgotten. In it, Morgan recounts how NASA painstakingly involved spouses and children in critical spaceflight activities, but still felt lonely on Earth. Indeed, U.S. military personnel are deployed around the world, and hundreds of thousands of families across the country share similar anxiety. Stacey Morgan and her children experienced this when Drew Morgan deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa while serving in the military. But there’s a profound difference between him being in space and her being here on Earth, with all the family responsibilities.

One of the most vivid scenes in the book is Stacey Morgan’s account of watching her husband return to Earth. When he left, the planet didn’t know what COVID-19 was. When he returned, the planet was in the throes of a pandemic. This meant that all the typical activities a spaceflight family would experience was curtailed, adding to her isolation from her husband and others who might provide support.

“When my inner dissident climbed its soapbox, I thought to myself it was all wrong,” Morgan wrote of the landing. “I should have a boisterous circle of friends around me. We should be talking and laughing.”

Instead, she and her children watched from a room overlooking NASA’s Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston. While they were waiting, an escort brought them chocolate chip cookies.

Stacey Morgan was stunned when she finally saw her husband emerge from a Soyuz capsule during the day on the far steppe of Kazakhstan. “Space travel propelled Drew into the future, and he looks 85. He’s not pale; he’s grey. He doesn’t look tired; he looks old,” she wrote. “Any relief I might have felt to see the capsule land safely on the ground has now been replaced by concerns about Drew’s health. He looked terrible.”

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