With his hands at the new SpaceX Crew Dragon’s controls, Lake area native NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins will help make space history.

With his hands at the new SpaceX Crew Dragon’s controls, Lake area native NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins will help make space history.

“I’m excited,” Hopkins said. “My wife and our boys are too. They’ve been down this road before. They’re looking forward to seeing the launch from a different perspective, being in Florida versus Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Anytime you’re selected it’s exciting but this time it has the extra twist of being part of launching humans again from the U.S.”

Hopkins’ launch will be an historic first as he is launching in an American-made and commercially built capsule. SpaceX’s Dragon Crew will take him and others to the International Space Station and back to earth. Hopkins and his crew will remain upon the ISS for approximately six months conducting science experiments and ISS maintenance before returning to the U.S. in the same ship that brought them up.

Hopkins and NASA astronaut Victor Glover were recently announced to be the first to fly this long duration mission on the private company SpaceX spaceship as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Two other NASA astronauts were assigned to be SpaceX test pilots verifying the vehicle before Mike and Victor’s mission. Also announced were Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s three test pilots and two crew members. Both companies will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX has already successfully conducted more tests than Boeing and hence their timeline is advancing toward being the first company to launch.

“Every eligible astronaut for flight assignments was considered. All those selected had flight test backgrounds. I think the selection committee leaned on that experience. It may have helped a little bit that I had that experience to be chosen.”

Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri and grew up on a farm outside Richland, Missouri. He was the valedictorian of the 1987 graduating class of School of the Osage. He earned an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering at University of Illinois and attained his masters of Aerospace at Stanford University. He joined the U.S. Air Force as second lieutenant. For many years he was a test pilot and went on to be an exchange officer with the Canadian Flight Test Center. He served in Italy and at the Pentagon before being selected for astronaut training in 2009. In 2013-2014 he logged 166 days in space as a member of Expedition 37/38. During his time on the ISS he performed two days of space walks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes helping to replace a degraded module of a critical system.

Hopkins said that he and other Americans will still go to Russia for ISS training. Hopkins will not include Soyuz (capsule) training for this mission. “But the time spent in Russia will not be as long as the last time I trained. It will be weeks versus months.”

Hopkins added that the plan is to alternate launches among the U.S.’ SpaceX (Dragon), Boeing (Starliner) and Russia’s Soyuz to maintain continuous crews upon the ISS.

“This rotation among the countries is a big deal,” Hopkins points out.

“I’m pretty happy,” Hopkins continues. “As a flight tester, this type of a program where there’s a lot of testing during this human launch opportunity is extremely exciting to me. I’m looking forward to seeing Victor’s first-time reactions. It’s going to be fantastic to share this experience with him. It’s going to be great!” Two other crew members from the European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or the Russian cosmonauts space program will be assigned to launch with Hopkins and Glover as the Dragon progresses closer to launch date. In the future, all astronauts and cosmonauts will launch upon all three vehicles. As to this new sleek, black and white module, Hopkins remarks, “It’s like a new car. It’s a clean design that has touch screens. It doesn’t have the switches and disks as in older vehicles like the space shuttle. The cockpit does have a few hard button switches. But this rotation among the countries is a big deal.”

As to when he’ll launch Hopkins explains, “I anticipate launching within the next couple of years. There are three, key events that need to be successful first.

1 An un-crewed year flight, probably by the end of this year,

2 An in-flight abort test, again with no humans aboard,

3 A crewed test flight lasting two to three weeks. Then our mission is next. “This is a very exciting time for human space flight, to work on going to the moon and then on to Mars. There’s new rockets. It’s uncharted territory. But there’s a broader message to know. We have had humans and Americans continuously in space for 18 plus years aboard the ISS. Sometimes we lose sight of that fact. I’m excited to help continue that and help bring human flight launch back to America.”

To follow Hopkins’ journey toward launch and aboard the ISS he can be found on Twitter @Astro_illini, @NASA, at NASA.gov. or on NASA TV.