"The Earth is more beautiful than you can imagine," said lake area native Astronaut Mike Hopkins from aboard the International Space Station during a recent phone interview.
"The mountains, the deserts, even what you don't think would be interesting like the oceans, they're all incredible," Hopkins said in a phone conversation with Osage Beach resident Selynn Barbour. "In the moonlight, its reflection in the snow and the oceans is stunning. Even in the Midwest, the fields and farms create patterns. Everywhere you fly there's something that takes your breath away," he continued.
But observing the Earth 240 miles below is just a tiny fraction of the duties this lake-area raised astronaut takes on in space. The six-member team, Expedition 38, is continuously engaged with a 24-hour timeline composed of science experiments, conditioning, health monitoring and ISS maintenance.
"I usually start my day by running on the tread mill, biking or working out with the ARED, which is the ISS equivalent of lifting weights, around 5:30 a.m. my time, which is about 11:30 p.m. your time for about two hours," Hopkins said. This daily conditioning is essential to prevent substantial bone loss in the near zero-gravity environment.
He works as a scientist during the day monitoring experiments sent up from all over the world. He also conducts experiments that range from power transfer to minute-size experiments including live insects.
"One recent experiment was working with ants and their foraging traits in weightlessness," he explained. "It's one that students can replicate easily in their classrooms."
Hopkins and the other astronauts also continuously monitor their own bodies for health maintenance and future learning for deep space travel.
Maintaining the ISS — a key part of Hopkins' responsibility — drew world-wide attention in December. On Christmas Eve, Hopkins and another American astronaut, Rick Mastracchio, conducted their second successful spacewalk. Hopkins became a human conductor atop the 50-foot long robotic arm that was maneuvered by a third crew member. He then manually-installed a new, 780-pound, cooling pump module to keep the ISS functional.
"When I first exited the hatch, I experienced a ball of different emotions. It was very intense. One of the most intense instances of my life. I had a sense of responsibility. I was focused on the task. But there were moments I could observe earth in all its glory without obstruction. I could see cities down below me. It was stunning," he shared.
Hopkins is also looking forward to sharing his experiences with his alma mater, School of the Osage High School. In February, he will answer many student questions during a live event.
"I really enjoy visiting with students up here. It's great to hear their excitement about space and science," he said.
Page 2 of 2 - When asked about a message to the lake, he answered, "Tell everyone 'Hi! Thanks for your support and keep watching. I'm looking forward to being back on Earth and seeing everyone.'"
Hopkins plans to return to Earth the second week of March. His six-month mission began last September. He will land in Kazakhstan, and, within a day, will be returning to Johnson Space Center for assessments and re-conditioning that lasts a few weeks. Then he will be preparing and hoping to return for another ISS mission or beyond.
"It was thrilling to hear from Mike," Barbour said. "My caller ID said 'Unknown' as would be the case as the ISS has its own area-code. The connection was crystal clear. Mike sounded great, his usual self, calm yet excited about what has been performed and what's yet to come. Mike told me when he first called he was over the Pacific Ocean, then passed over Hawaii. When we were finishing up our 28-minute conversation Mike was above South America."
"When I saw him in July at his Johnson Space Center press conferences he was ready to go," she said. "He was extremely poised during the interviews and events. Yet in visiting with him I could tell he was wound tight. He told me he was rearing to get to space and experience that new frontier, to live out his life-long dream."
Hopkins can be seen on the NASA channel on tv or on a computer at www.nasa.org. He can also be seen flying directly over the lake with sighting details at ww.spotthestation.nasa.gov. Follow him on twitter @astroillini