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NASA Spotlight: Astronaut Mike HopkinsMichael S. Hopkins was selected by NASA as an astronaut…

NASA Spotlight: Astronaut Mike HopkinsMichael S. Hopkins was selected by NASA as an astronaut…

NASA Spotlight: Astronaut Mike Hopkins

Michael S. Hopkins was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2009. The Missouri native is currently the Crew-1 mission commander for NASA’s next SpaceX launch to the International Space Station on Nov. 14, 2020. Hopkin’s Crew-1 mission will mark the first-ever crew rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft with astronauts on board, and it secures the U.S.’s ability to launch humans into space from American soil once again. 

Previously, Hopkins was member of the Expedition 37/38 crew and has logged 166 days in space. During his stay aboard the station, he conducted two spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes to change out a degraded pump module. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering. 

He took some time from being a NASA astronaut to answer questions about his life and career! Enjoy:

What do you hope people think about when
you launch?

I hope people are thinking about the fact that we’re
starting a new era in human spaceflight. We’re re-opening human launch
capability to U.S. soil again, but it’s not just that. We’re opening low-Earth
orbit and the International Space Station with commercial companies. It’s a lot
different than what we’ve done in the past. I hope people realize this isn’t
just another launch – this is something a lot bigger. Hopefully it’s setting
the stage, one of those first steps to getting us to the Moon and on to Mars.

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You served in the U.S. Air Force as a flight
test engineer. What does that entail?

First off, just like being an astronaut, it involves a lot of training when you
first get started. I went to the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and spent a
year in training and just learning how to be a flight test engineer. It was one
of the most challenging years I’ve ever had, but also one of the more rewarding
years. What it means afterwards is, you are basically testing new vehicles or
new systems that are going on aircraft. You are testing them before they get
handed over to the operational fleet and squadrons. You want to make sure that
these capabilities are safe, and that they meet requirements. As a flight test
engineer, I would help design the test. I would then get the opportunity to go
and fly and execute the test and collect the data, then do the analysis, then
write the final reports and give those conclusions on whether this particular
vehicle or system was ready to go.

What is one piece of life advice you wish
somebody had told you when you were younger?
 

A common theme for me is to just have patience. Enjoy the ride along the way. I
think I tend to be pretty high intensity on things and looking back, I think
things happen when they’re supposed to happen, and sometimes that doesn’t
necessarily agree with when you think it should happen. So for me, someone
saying, “Just be patient Mike, it’s all going to happen when it’s supposed to,”
would be really good advice.

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Is there a particular science experiment you enjoyed
working on the most while aboard the space station?

There’s a lot of experiments I had the opportunity to participate in, but
the ones in particular I liked were ones where I got to interact directly with
the folks that designed the experiment. One thing I enjoyed was a fluid
experiment called Capillary Flow Experiment, or CFE. I got to work directly
with the principal investigators on the ground as I executed that experiment.
What made it nice was getting to hear their excitement as you were letting them
know what was happening in real time and getting to hear their voices as they
got excited about the results. It’s just a lot of fun.

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Space is a risky business. Why do it?

I think most of us when we think about whatever it is we do, we don’t think
of it in those terms. Space is risky, yes, but there’s a lot of other risky
jobs out there. Whether it’s in the military, farming, jobs that involve heavy
machinery or dangerous equipment… there’s all kinds of jobs that entail risk. Why
do it? You do it because it appeals to you. You do it because it’s what gets
you excited. It just feels right. We all have to go through a point in our
lives where we figure out what we want to do and what we want to be. Sometimes
we have to make decisions based on factors that maybe wouldn’t lead you down
that choice if you had everything that you wanted, but in this particular case
for me, it’s exactly where I want to be. From a risk standpoint, I don’t think
of it in those terms.

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Can you describe your crew mate Soichi Noguchi in one
sentence?

There are many facets to Soichi Noguchi. I’m thinking about the movie Shrek.
He has many layers! He’s very talented. He’s very well-thought. He’s very
funny. He’s very caring. He’s very sensitive to other people’s needs and
desires. He’s a dedicated family man. I could go on and on and on… so maybe like
an onion – full of layers!

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Star Trek or Star Wars?

I love them both. But can I say Firefly? There’s a TV series out
there called Firefly. It lasted one season – kind of a space cowboy-type show.
They did have a movie, Serenity, that was made as well. But anyway, I
love both Star Wars and Star Trek. We’ve really enjoyed The Mandalorian.
I mean who doesn’t love Baby Yoda right? It’s all fun.

How many times did you apply to be an astronaut? Did
you learn anything on your last attempt? 

I tried four times over the course of 13 years. My first three attempts, I
didn’t even have references checked or interviews or anything. Remember what we
talked about earlier, about patience? For my fourth attempt, the fact is, it
happened when it was supposed to happen. I didn’t realize it at the time. I
would have loved to have been picked on my first attempt like anybody would
think, but at the same time, because I didn’t get picked right away, my family
had some amazing experiences throughout my Air Force career. That includes
living in Canada, living overseas in Italy, and having an opportunity to work
at the Pentagon. All of those helped shape me and grow my experience in ways
that I think helped me be a better astronaut.

Can you share your favorite photo or video that you
took in space?

One of my favorite pictures was a picture inside the station at night when
all of the lights were out. You can see the glow of all of the little LEDs and
computers and things that stay on even when you turn off the overhead lights.
You see this glow on station. It’s really one of my favorite times because the
picture doesn’t capture it all. I wish you could hear it as well. I like to
think of the station in some sense as being alive. It’s at that time of night
when everybody else is in their crew quarters in bed and the lights are out
that you feel it. You feel the rhythm, you feel the heartbeat of the station,
you see it in the glow of those lights – that heartbeat is what’s keeping you
alive while you’re up there. That picture goes a small way of trying to capture
that, but I think it’s a special time from up there.

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What personal items did you decide to pack
for launch and why? 

My wedding bands. I’m also taking up pilot wings
for my son. He wants to be a pilot so if he succeeds with that, I’ll be able to
give him his pilot wings. Last time, I took one of the Purple Hearts of a very
close friend. He was a Marine in World War II who earned it after his service
in the Pacific.

Thank you for your time, Mike, and good luck on your historic mission! Get to know a bit more about Mike and his Crew-1 crew mates Victor Glover, Soichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker in the video above.

Watch LIVE launch coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. EST on Nov. 14 HERE. 

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