The next man in space hails from Camden County and graduated from the School of the Osage. His journey is the culmination of a lifetime of work.
What does the lake area and NASA have in common? More than most might think. The next American astronaut in space is slated to be Mike Hopkins from Richland. His training, he said, began here and will soon propel him further than most humans have ever traveled.
"There are a lot of benefits of growing up in a small community in Missouri. I think that sense of community, that sharing with each other, helping each other out are all important," Hopkins explained at a recent press conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
On Sept. 25, Hopkins will launch with two other cosmonauts — Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy — aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Hopkins and his crew mates will live aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for six months, returning to earth in late March 2014. He will enable numerous physical and scientific experiments, maintain the facility, workout to remain fit and supposedly lift the fire of the Olympic torch to new heights.
His life here on Earth has been focused on training — training that began in his youth. Since the age of 16 he thoughtfully planned his path to sail among the stars. He focused on academics. He was valedictorian of his School of the Osage class of 1987. He graduated from the University of Illinois with honors and a degree in Aerospace Engineering. His master’s in the same field is from Stanford University.
Balancing his academic strengths, Hopkins focused on physical achievements ranging from attaining first in the state in pole vaulting for the Indians, excelling at Osage's high school football team, to becoming the Illinois football team captain that competed in repeated bowl games.
He focused next on his decades of distinctive service in the United States Air Force as a test pilot, then in administration with his appointed work at the Pentagon. He received numerous military medals and commendations that helped make attaining his dream a reality. In 2012, he was selected for the NASA astronaut program.
Hopkins' 41 years of training has prepared him well for the rigors of training with NASA.
During these recent years, Hopkins has learned and tested in America at all eight NASA sites and abroad. He focused on the functions and upkeep needed aboard the ISS. In Canada he trained on the robotic arm. In Russia he, as flight engineer, mastered the capsules that ferry them up and back.
His intense training necessitated being gone from his family, wife Julie and two sons for many weeks at a time. Yet they are supportive of his dream and NASA's vision of space exploration and scientific development.
"We're very excited," Julie said after the press conference. Hopkins' mother, Barbara Duffy, also is supportive of her son. Duffy will be following her son's history making trip from her home in Camdenton.
"Naturally, I have some motherly concerns as the launch draws nearer, but, after being at the NASA facility and seeing some of the highly qualified training staff and the extensive safety procedures they use, I am confident that Mike is in wonderful hands," she said. "I am really proud of his work and preparation for the mission and look forward to following his experience on the Space Station."
It will be easy to follow Mike as he launches, lives and works in space. NASA TV will show the launch live. They will share his daily life on their website as well. He also will be tweeting from space @TrainAstronaut and @AstroIllini.
It is this social media tool where he has invited all the world to "Train Like Mike." He will post short videos of his training that typically is 2 1/2 hours each day. There are three, specially designed apparatus aboard the ISS. There's the familiar treadmill equipped with harnesses. The cycle ergometer is similar to a stationary bike. The ARED (Advanced Resistance Exercise Device) exercises muscles much like lifting weights. Fitness tips will also be shared by the Train Like an Astronaut team. Through its Mission X component found on Facebook, young, future astronaut can join in on the fun.
"Fit kids turn into fit adults," Hopkins points out during a recent Google hangout that included a White House senior advisor, Olympians, current Cross Fit champion, an NFL player, and the editor of "Men's Health" magazine.
The above experts in their respective fields engaged in an interchange that highlighted hard work, determination and drive to achieve success. Success that is launching lake-raised Mike Hopkins to soon fly 240 miles over head at the speed of 17,500 miles per hour achieving his dream of being an astronaut.