GEAR & TECH

The Army has three active-duty soldier-astronauts

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, who is the Army Chief of Staff's personal adviser on matters affecting the enlisted force, visited the Army Astronaut Detachment at the Johnson Space Center Feb. 28, 2018 on behalf of Army senior leadership.


There are currently three active duty Army astronauts who are assigned to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's NASA detachment — Lt. Col. Andrew Morgan, Maj. Anne McClain, and Maj. Frank Rubio (astronaut candidate).

Also read: Mercury 13: The first female astronaut candidates that time forgot

These Soldiers help the Army define its requirements for the space program and enhance the Army's use of space capabilities.

Morgan, the detachment commander who is assigned for his first mission to the International Space Station in 2019, said it was a real honor for the sergeant major of the Army, or SMA, to take the time to visit them in Houston.

"It's rare for such a senior member of the Army leadership team to come down to Johnson Space Center to see what we do," said Morgan. "The SMA told us he wanted to get to every place on the planet that Soldiers serve -- off the planet is a little tougher; we can't get him to the International Space Station. But we were able to give him a detailed tour of the facilities where astronauts train and see Army astronauts at work supporting human spaceflight and training for upcoming missions. The SMA is excited for our mission and anxious to share the story of Army astronauts and how space Soldiers serve our nation's human spaceflight program."

During his visit, the SMA was given a tour of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which NASA uses not only for astronaut training and the refinement of spacewalk procedures, but also to develop flight procedures and verify hardware compatibility -- all of which are necessary to achieve mission success.

Retired Army Col. Shane Kimbrough, NASA astronaut, describes some of the features of the T-38 jet which is used to train astronauts for spaceflight. (U.S. Army photo by Ms. Dottie K. White)

He also went to Ellington Field, where the primary function is to train astronauts for spaceflight; the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, here the mission is to provide world-class training for space flight crews and their support personnel; and the mission control center, where flight controllers keep a constant watch on the ISS crew's activities and monitor spacecraft systems, crew health and safety as they check every system to ensure operations proceed as planned.

Related: Army veteran and comic favorite of Mercury astronauts Bill Dana dies at 92

Dailey said there were a couple of reasons for his visit.

"First of all, these are Soldiers," he said. "They belong to the United States Army. We have Soldiers everywhere. They're out in the world. It's our job to go out there and see the great things that our Soldiers are doing."

"The second reason is to highlight the importance of the fact that we have Soldier astronauts, and that is amazing even to me," Dailey continued. "I'm the sergeant major of the Army. I've been in the Army a long time. And that's amazing to me, and it just shows the great contributions that Soldiers are doing from the edge of the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan to outer space. Is that unbelievable or what?"

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey discusses human spaceflight with Army astronauts (from left) Maj. Frank Rubio, Lt. Col. Andrew Morgan and Maj. Anne McClain during his visit to the Army Astronaut Detachment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Ms. Dottie K. White)

"And the third reason is to show our support from the senior leadership perspective," he added. "There are only three Army astronauts down here right now. They're just as important as the other 1.18 million Soldiers we have everywhere else in the world. And they deserve that level of attention from the senior leadership of the Army and they deserve that appreciation because every single one of them has worked extremely hard to get here."

Morgan highlighted the fact that the Army Astronaut Program is about all Soldiers regardless of rank.

More: This is what happens when astronauts see Earth from space for the first time

"The sergeant major of the Army represents the senior Army Soldier, and the officers and astronauts of the NASA detachment consider themselves Soldiers first," said Morgan. "The message that we really want to get out there is that the Army Astronaut Program is about all Soldiers. We don't have a selection very often, maybe once every four years or so, but I want to emphasize that, while there are requirements to apply, rank is not one of them. We take all types. One thing that we've proven over and over again is that good Soldiers make good astronauts."

McClain, who is scheduled for her first mission to the ISS in November 2017, said it was a real privilege to have the SMA visit.

"It's not often that we can host guests from the Army," McClain said. "We love showing the Army what we do. We're very proud of our unit, so to have someone like the SMA who really has the ability to share with others what we're doing and just seeing his genuine concern for the Soldiers down here is a real honor. It's been really fun to show him around."