Astronaut and mid-Missouri native Michael Hopkins’s fascination with astronomy began while he was in high school. The early days of NASA’s space shuttle program occurred during his high school years.

Michael Hopkins (Photos courtesy of NASA)

“They used to actually show the launches and the missions on TV at school,” Hopkins said. “That just kind of peaked my interest in space and it stuck.”

The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. Five complete Shuttle systems were built and used from 1981 to 2011. They were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hopkins, of Richland, has a distinguished career in the military and in space. He is an Air Force Colonel and has logged about 166 days in space.

During a pre-eclipse event on Sunday in Jefferson City, Hopkins served as the guest of honor for “Breakfast with an Astronaut”. He told Missourinet his Air Force career and love for astronomy led him to NASA.

Barbara Hopkins is a proud mother. She said her son’s gift for astronomy was clear while he was in high school.

“That was the days of the shuttle,” said Barbara Hopkins. “His father had been a Marine Corps. pilot and so he knew flying was in there somewhere. Space captivated him. From there, that was his big dream.”

She said part of his gift includes his daredevil spirit.

“He was always wanting to try the next thing and to jump off of the high cliff or to live that adventure when he was growing up,” said Barbara Hopkins. “I think that sense of adventure led him to space as much as anything else.”

When Barbara Hopkins learned that general admission tickets were sold out for Sunday’s breakfast, she panicked. Hopkins wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see her son as the special guest of the event. She forked over the extra bucks for a VIP pass and said it was worth every penny.

An influential force in Michael Hopkins’ visit to Jefferson City is credited to Marteen Nolan, who teaches at Crocker High School in mid-Missouri. Hopkins has skyped with her class about space. Nolan told Missourinet she pestered NASA until officials there agreed.

“He’s been just so terrific and supportive of my classroom and students in general,” said Nolan. “When I was put on the task force to plan this event, that was my first thought. We’ve got to get Mike here because he’s from here and I just knew what a warm reception he would get, too.”

That warm reception comes in the form of about 410 people attending Sunday’s event.