The latest Missourian to become an astronaut is disappointed he won’t be flying on a space shuttle, but is excited about the future of the U.S. space program.
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon and grew up on a farm near Richland. He achieved the title of astronaut about a month ago and continues to train for his first mission, scheduled for September, 2013.
He says he grew up watching the shuttle launches in the 80s, and that’s when he began to dream of going into space. When his astronaut class began training in 2009, however, its members knew the shuttle program was ending and it was highly unlikely any of them would go up on one. Watching the final launch of Atlantis on July 8th was emotional, but Hopkins is excited about the future.
He says even in the midst of a reduced budget, NASA is still planning a vehicle to one day replace the Shuttle. Missions are also being considered that would see man return to the Moon, visit Mars and perhaps land on an asteroid. Hopkins hopes to be a part of any or all of those.
In the mean time, he and his fellow astronauts will travel to and from the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz rockets. Hopkins will serve as an engineer on the mission and will also likely conduct experiments, operate robotics and serve other roles.
One of the happiest moments of his astronaut training experience so far came two years ago, when Hopkins had the chance to tell his two young sons that he was entering the program. Now he says he looks forward to talking to them from 175 miles or so up.