Missouri native picked to be NASA astronaut

Sunday, July 5, 2009 | 5:04 p.m. CDT

RICHLAND — A Missouri native's lifelong dream was realized when he became part of the 2009 class of NASA astronauts, his fourth attempt since 1996.

Mike Hopkins, 40, is an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is currently special assistant to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.

NASA announced this past week that Hopkins, along with eight other candidates, was chosen from a nationwide applicant pool of 3,500 for its latest class of astronauts.

Hopkins grew up on his family's hog and cattle farm near Richland, southeast of the Lake of the Ozarks. He has a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Illinois, where he played on the football team. He later earned his master's degree at Stanford University.

His interested in space began during NASA missions in the 1980s while he was in high school.

"As long as I've known him, this has been his dream," his stepmother, Paula Hertwig Hopkins, said. "Every step of the way, he had his eye on the ball. I know him, I know his focus, and if anyone was going to pull this off, he could."

Hopkins said the announcement was still sinking in.

"I knew it would be a long process," he said. "I'm just one of those types that will set my mind to it and keep applying until they tell me to stop."

Hopkins served in the Air Force in Albuquerque, N.M., where he married his wife, Julie. His first son was born in California as Hopkins was attending test pilot school.

Hopkins said he received a phone message at work from NASA representatives about his application and he knew that returning the call would bring good news.

When he arrived home, his sons "were jumping, yelling, and my youngest had this huge smile on his face and gave me a hug. It was fantastic."

The family plans to move to the Houston area so Hopkins can begin training. He will likely be eligible for missions in about five years.


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