Coronadan Dr. Rod Borgie Participates In NASA Mars Planning Mission - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

Coronadan Dr. Rod Borgie Participates In NASA Mars Planning Mission

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Posted: Monday, June 3, 2019 3:52 pm

U.S. Navy Captain Rod Borgie has an interesting and complex background, which started humbly in the city of Compton. “My Dad was a Lutheran minister and my Mom was a nurse and they had an inner-city ministry,” Borgie explained. “Our house was robbed three times and my Mom issued an ultimatum that we had to move. They started the Penasquitos Lutheran Church, which brought us to San Diego, when I was five.”

Things picked up considerably after that beginning, as Borgie graduated from Mt. Carmel High School, where he played trumpet in the band and helped start a club lacrosse team at the school, before the sport was sanctioned by the CIF. After graduation, Borgie matriculated to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, where he majored in Biological Sciences, attending the school on a trumpet scholarship. Later he was Senior Class president. “I had fun,” Borgie recalled of his college days. “I did enough to get into medical school. I played rugby in college to try something new. It was a small school and I went out for track and I did some triathlons on my own.”

For Borgie, ‘medical school’ was the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. “You have to be physically fit to get into the school,” Borgie said. “The school is free, your books are paid for and you are an active-duty ensign. With the salary and benefits, I was able to cut my financial ties with home. It’s a seven-year commitment, 11 years total including medical school and in hindsight it was the best thing I ever did. I was single at the time and I opted for the Navy up front. Their bases are on the coast and their uniforms look the best.”

But Borgie didn’t stop there. The concept of being a Dual Designator appealed to him, in this case a combination of medicine and aviation. “I had a general surgery internship at Balboa Hospital. I became interested in aviation as soon as I became a flight surgeon while I was on a tour at North Island and then the USS Stennis. I was flying with the S-3’s and the helicopters there. It is a rare exception where they take a doctor with no flight experience and turn them into a student aviator. I passed the carrier qualifications and selected to come back to North Island. I don’t miss the night landings at all, you can get stress ulcers from that. But it was fun to land on carriers in the daytime. As a flight surgeon, you are always flying in the back seat. Being a dual designator is expensive and an investment. I’ve been in for 26 years now. It’s a unique thing and very few people start out on the medical side and then become a pilot.”

Borgie explained the concept of a flight surgeon, as well as his present and future roles in the Navy. “Flight surgeon is an old military title. We are primary care doctors taking care of pilots. Once my medical internship was done, I was licensed to practice general medicine. Being a flight surgeon is a three-year tour. I went to Pensacola for six months and was working policies and waivers for paperwork, allowing pilots to fly. And I was taking care of pilots with unique medical conditions and for helo flight training as well. You do a tour and then do a residency in something. Typically flight surgeons are lieutenants just out of medical school. They are pretty junior docs.”

Currently Borgie is the Deputy Force Surgeon, Commander Naval Air Forces. In August, he assumes the role of Force Surgeon for Commander Naval Air Forces Reserve. “Keeping the kids in the same high school was a priority for us,” Borgie said of his new position. “Currently I’m the Deputy and I work for a three-star admiral. I get to move one office over and the kids get to stay at the same school.” In August 2019 Borgie is hoping to receive funding that will allow him to go to Corpus Christi, Texas and take a refresher course in a C-40 so he can resume flying. “I need about 50 hours in the air and some refresher training. The title of Dual Designator is always there.”

Borgie has accomplished more than what we have noted so far. When it came time for him to select a field of specialization, he chose diagnostic radiology and neuroradiology. Borgie said, “Academically the radiology program is hard to get into, but I had enough connections to get in. I chose radiology because it was academically challenging, and it worked well with my career timing. You enter the program on the same level as everybody else. All the stuff we can do and see now with imaging is huge. I studied radiology for four years at Balboa and Neuroradiology for two years at Harvard’s Mass General Hospital. I still have those contacts. Technically it’s radiology of the brain and spine and it takes six years of training.”

Borgie and his wife Suzie have three children, and the kids collectively may have hit the proverbial genetic jackpot. Son Andrew is 16, is a rising junior at Coronado High School and plays baseball; Emma is a rising sophomore and played JV Softball this past year; and rising third grader Jonathan is at Village Elementary and plays soccer and baseball. Borgie said of his courtship of Suzie, “We came into the military together in Pensacola. I asked her out while I was doing pushups with a gunnery sergeant. He made me do more pushups. We were in medical school together and we got married in the middle of our third year of medical school. Suzie got out of the military in 2005 and was an active duty physician. We had two kids at the time and decided that two active duty Navy physicians did not allow for our desired time with the kids and we were fortunate enough to have the ability to have one stay home. She sacrificed and got out of the Navy and is now busy raising our three kids. She volunteers when she can and has taught art at Village Elementary. That’s one of the things I like about Coronado is the parents are involved. It’s a great investment in kids.”

In April 2018, Borgie decided to apply for a NASA program called Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA), which is a series of experiments designed to answer questions regarding what it will take to send humans to Mars. In theory a trip to the Red Planet would last for three years, essentially one year to get there, one on Mars and one year to return to Earth. Borgie said, “The HERA program has been around and progressing and getting more robust. You have to take 68 days away from work, including two weeks before the mission and a week after the mission is completed. There are a lot of people who can’t do that. The three-star here said our staffing was right and it would be good representation for the Navy, and he let me become involved. I put the application in, which included a resume, a physical, normal labs and I answered some questions. I was cleared medically, and then they fly you out to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for two days, give you a psych evaluation and see if you are a match with the other members of the team. Part of our experiment is to see what kind of team should be put together, along with their personalities, for the three-year trip to Mars. They tested us with virtual reality to see if we would get sick. My entire four-person team was really high quality and it was nice to be selected. They would have liked to have two men and two women, but we had three guys and one girl. They have already had a HERA mission with an all-woman crew. Our crew members were all really nice, and we were motivated from the very beginning to do really well.”

Borgie’s HERA 18 mission had as its target Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons and the flight simulation ran for 45 days from February 15-April 1, 2019. Borgie said, “Our mission was a reduced privacy and space module. There was 24-hour mission control just outside. In a prior mission they examined sleep deprivation, so that wasn’t part of our study. The module had been used before, we just shortened everything and made the living area tighter and smaller, about 450 square feet. The hygiene module used to have a door and that was taken off and we had the canvas sheet coving our sleep quarters was reduced to a cargo net. There were cameras and microphones everywhere. We would be shaving with cameras on the entire time. We had a tiny place with a toilet and a shower. On the other side of the door was an airlock, and we had a sound-proofed room. We got a 30-minute phone call, once a week, with our family. We didn’t have cell phones or anything. We got to turn off the mics when we had private conversations with our family. It was a simulated mission to Phobos. It was all virtual reality and we could only talk on our headsets. We had a five-minute communication time delay when we talked back and forth with Mission Control, to simulate the distance back to earth.”

The specific focus of HERA XVIII was to help NASA better understand the hazards of human spaceflight, with the goal of sending astronauts safely to the Moon and on to Mars. Borgie said, “There’s still a lot to overcome for a trip to Mars. Part of it is the distance. It looks like we will be going back to the Moon in 2024 and there is already a budget in place for that.”

Borgie doesn’t consider himself to be an astronaut because he was part of HERA 18, although he is among the final 400 applicants who applied to become an astronaut, from an original pool of 18,300 applicants. However age is not on his side. Borgie smiled and said, “They’re looking for younger astronauts for a long mission, but they may need an older guy to be the glue in the group, who has more resistance to radiation.”

HERA XIX will start soon, but Borgie isn’t part of that mission. “I know some of the members, but I don’t talk to them too much. They have to figure it out on their own. There is one sink, and you have to do dishes, brush your teeth and do laundry in a tiny sink in the hygiene module. We did laundry every day, so every fourth day we would have three days’ worth of things to clean. And there isn’t a lot of real estate in the module to dry clothes. We figured that out early on.”

When asked if he would do another HERA assignment, Borgie said quickly, “Oh, yeah. If I had the same crew members.” As for the future, with 26 years in the Navy he replied, “I have always stayed in for the fun and I don’t have a year mark going forward. I’ve had a good positive impact, mentoring younger flight surgeons, making positive contributions to the Navy, with no negative impact on the family. I could retire after the next tour, depending on the offer and what is best for the family. I’m motivated to take care of others and be an influence for the betterment of the Navy in general.”

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