On a farm near southern Missouri’s Richland, Mike Hopkins grew up watching with fascination as astronauts rocketed into space. America’s space shuttle program inspired him to want to reach for the stars. Those were the days of the space shuttles Challenger and Discovery launching into orbit.
Today, Hopkins is living out his childhood dreams. He is commander of a crew scheduled to take off into space on October 31 and head to the International Space Station.
“You got to see the launches on TV at school. Everybody would go to the auditorium and they’d have the TVs set up on the stage and you got to see that,” says Hopkins. “And you’re just looking at that going, ‘Wow, I’d love to do that.’ It just feels right. I think those of us that are blessed to have jobs like that where it feels like this is where you are supposed to be, I think we are all very fortunate. So hopefully our mission will be able to do the same thing. When they get to see the crew and our different backgrounds and where we came from, hopefully everybody out there will find one of us that they can connect with that can help inspire them.”
Hopkins, 51, will be aboard the second manned flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The crew is blasting off in the same vehicle that launched into space over the summer with St. Louis County native Bob Behnken on board.
Hopkins will be joined by NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Victor Glover, as well as Soichi Noguchi from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Their mission is expected to last until April 2021. Hopkins says the plan is for the crew to return by plunging into the water – just like Behnken did in August.
The astronauts will live aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Hopkins describes the ISS as alive.
“You find that out when it’s after work hours and you’ve turned out the lights and people are in their crew quarters going to bed and you’re kind of alone in some of the main modules. You just hear and you can feel this vibration of the equipment that’s keeping you alive and it’s like a heartbeat,” he says. “You get that sense of just how special this vehicle is because it’s standing between you and the vacuum of space. You just really feel a connection to it.”
The space station flies at an average altitude of 248 miles above Earth. It circles the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of about 17,500 mph.
Have you ever wondered how massive the station is? Let’s put it this way – the ISS spans the area of an American football field and weighs more than 861,000 lbs. The complex has more livable room than a five-bedroom home, with two bathrooms, a gym and a 360-degree bay window.
Its main construction was completed between 1998 and 2011 but continues to grow.
The ISS is bright enough that it can be seen from Earth at night without the use of a telescope by star gazers who know a thing or two. NASA has an interactive map to find out where to spot the station.
The space mission will mark the second one for Hopkins. He has logged 166 days in space and conducted two spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes.
“I’m excited to float again. There’s nothing like that,” he says. “It’s an experience that is hard to describe and that’s actually one of my goals when I go up this time is to figure out how to describe – how to put it into words to people down on Earth.”
Hopkins has also served his country in the U.S. Air Force. He is currently a colonel in the newly-launched U.S. Space Force – a space warfare branch of America’s military.
His mother and stepfather, Barbara and Dennis Duffy, reside in central Missouri’s Camdenton. His father, Ogle Hopkins, is deceased, and his stepmother, Paula Hertwig Hopkins, lives on the farm outside Richland near Ft. Leonard Wood.
Listen to the interview with NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins:
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