Ready for lift-off

The encouraging phrase “shoot for the stars” takes on a literal meaning for NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, a ’91 University alumnus. Hopkins will head to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft with two crewmates Sept. 25.

Hopkins will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency. They will join the three other Expedition 37 crewmates — Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano — at the International Space Station. Hopkins is expected to return to Earth by March 2014.

Originally from Missouri, Hopkins attended the University of Illinois for his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. While at the University, he was a team captain of the football team, ROTC member and brother of the social fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha.

After graduating, he earned his master’s in aerospace engineering at Stanford University in 1992. A colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Hopkins is the first member of his 2009 NASA astronaut class to go to space.

The Technograph got the opportunity to interview NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins via satellite live from his training base in Star City, Russia.

Technograph: How did you physically and mentally prepare to go on this expedition?

Michael Hopkins: There’s actually been a training program for the last two and a half years that I’ve been going through, and so from a mental standpoint, you’re executing that program, you’re going to class, you’re learning various things about the station, about EBA, about the robotic arm, about the various vehicles that are going to visit us while we’re up there on station.

From a physical standpoint, that’s also been very important, so we work out pretty much every day. Some type of physical activity, whether it be anaerobic or aerobic, weights, running, various activities, bike riding — things like that. So physical fitness, mental fitness, it’s all very important to being able to go on station.

Technograph: What are your family and friends’ thoughts on you heading to space?

MH: I think they’re all very excited about it. Of course my mother is very nervous. My wife, I think for her and the kids, it’s a little bit surreal. I don’t think a lot of us are going to feel that it’s really real until the rocket actually lights. But everybody is very excited. Fortunately, I’m going to have a lot of my family that’s going to come over to the launch, so they’re going to be there with me, and so I’m just looking forward to that.

Technograph: I read that you’ll be assisting in research for more than 200 scientific experiments. Can you talk about them?

MH: There’s quite a bit of science that’s going on right now on station. There’s a lot of variety in it. There’s science that we’re not as directly involved in. For example, there’s an alpha-magnetic spectrometer, which is outside the station, which is looking at the origins of the universe, dark matter, anti-matter, trying to discover those things. And so, in that case, what we’re really doing is keeping the station running, providing power cooling. And then there are other experiments that we’re very involved in because we’re the guinea pigs. So, for example, there’s a Pro K experiment, which is looking at the relationship between animal proteins and potassium and how that affects bone loss, which is critical for a space flight as well as for folks at home as they get older.

Technograph: You attended the University of Illinois for aerospace engineering. What was most memorable about the University?

MH: There’s a lot of great memories from the University of Illinois, not only at the engineering department, but my fraternity and ROTC and playing football there. But probably the most memorable thing was that’s where I met my wife, and she’s just been a wonderful part of this adventure.

Technograph: Are there any people at University of Illinois who influenced you, such as professors? Are they still at the University today?

MH: Yeah, my adviser was Professor (John E.) Prussing. He certainly influenced me. I certainly enjoyed his classes. He helped guide me through those critical four years, four and a half years at Illinois. So, I’d certainly say him, and then my teammates on the football team as well, and coaching staff, as great influences. Coach (Lou) Tepper, Coach (Steve) Bernstein had a large influence on me as well.

Technograph: Why did you want to become an astronaut? Is there anyone or anything that inspired you?

MH: I’ve wanted to be an astronaut for quite a long time, going back into the high school days. And I’m not sure if it’s any one particular thing. It just feels right. I don’t think there’s any other place I’d rather be. It’s a great job — to be honest, I don’t even consider it a job. It’s just an honor to be here, it’s a privilege, and I’m excited every day to go into work.

Technograph: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MH: I just want to give a quick shout out to the University of Illinois and the aerospace department and the engineering department in general. It was a wonderful time there. I’m very happy to be an alumni from there, very proud to be an alumni from there, and just good luck to everybody.

Alison can be reached at [email protected]