Chump's in space.
To the applause and cheers of a couple hundred people in Cummings Auditorium at OHS, School of the Osage graduate Mike Hopkins blasted into space right on schedule with two Russian cosmonauts at 3:58 p.m. Wednesday en route to the International Space Station.
Hopkins, a 1987 OHS graduate, was the first to be chosen from a 14-member class of astronauts who call themselves "The Chumps."
Good friend and fellow astronaut Scott Tingle spent the day at School of the Osage "as a favor to my good friend" and explained that while some situations call for a toast or raising of champagne glasses, his astronaut class decided to say "Chump's in space" to celebrate Hopkins' liftoff from Earth.
Tingle, a captain in the U.S. Navy, met with Osage Middle School students early Wednesday morning, and then had lunch with OHS honor students. The affable Tingle, who hopes to follow in Hopkins' footsteps some day, said during an assembly for high school students that the ISS program couldn't have chosen a better person to be assigned for the flight from the "Chump" class's first class.
"He's a true American hero," Tingle said of Hopkins, who will spend the next six months in space overseeing several physical and scientific experiments, maintain the facility and work out to remain fit.
Hopkins served as the flight engineer on the Russian Federal Space Station Soyuz during its flight to the ISS and monitored flight systems. Tingle said on a typical mission the Soyuz will spend a day or two in orbit before docking with the ISS, but this time it made a direct flight.
Mission 37 blasted from Kazakhstan, a remote launch facility in Central Asia, along with cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency. The three will join three other ISS residents. Hopkins and his crew will return in March.
During a press conference earlier in the afternoon, Tingle said the mission and the partnership with Russia are "very significant. Our country's space program is in a period of change and transition, and 16 international partners have been involved with building and maintaining the ISS."
The high school assembly preceded the launch, and several students remained after school and were joined by members of the public and Hopkins' family for the launch.
Hopkins was born in Lebanon, but later moved to Richland. His mother, Barb Duffy, is a former School of the Osage teacher and traveled to Kazakhstan for the launch. Hopkins' stepfather, Dennis Duffy, and several family members had a front row seat in Cummings Auditorium to watch the launch live while Tingle provided background information. The Duffys live in Camdenton.
As a special salute to their OHS alum, Osage students held up autographed photos of Hopkins while fellow astronaut Tingle recorded it. Tingle said Hopkins would be looking at the commemorative moment about nine hours after liftoff when he gets settle in on the ISS.
Page 2 of 2 - "We're launching a hero today," Tingle said before the liftoff. "He's my best friend and has the most integrity of anybody I know. He's smart and he's engaged in what he does. He carries not only the hopes and dreams of our astronaut team but of all Americans. He was the right choice to be the first from our class to be chosen."
Hopkins, whose call sign is "Hopper," video taped a short message to School of the Osage about 3 a.m. Sunday in Kazakhstan, four days before the launch.
"I started the journey to space flight where you are sitting right now," he told OHS students. "Thanks to you all."
His comments fit with the overall message of Tingle and Hopkins: Dream Big.
Hopkins' time on the ISS can be monitored at www.nasa.gov.
The ISS can also be tracked by the naked eye or by telescope on Sept. 28 at 5:59 a.m. and again Sept. 30 at 5:57 a.m. For more details, check the NASA website.
Family at the launch
Friends of the family reported Hopkins' mother, Barb Duffy, of Camdenton, his wife, Julie and their two sons left last week for Russia to await the launch. Duffy has relayed to family and friends that they are being treated like royalty in Russia. They have had dinner in a yurt with Russians in native dress and have been able to visit with Hopkins.
Watching the launch was especially thrilling for local residents who have known Hopkins as a boy, watching him graduate and now follow his dream.
Barbara Fredholm, of Camdenton, said it was a thrilling moment for her.
"I am thrilled, proud and excited,"she said. " When our family lived on a farm near Richland from 1969 to 1974, Barbara, Ogle, Alan, Mike and Loreen Hopkins, also lived near Richland on a farm. We all went to the United Methodist Church in Richland and spent many hours enjoying canoe trips, hay rides, barn dances, rural Olympics, tennis and so on during those busy years. It is so exciting."