Illinois Football Star Soared to New Heights in Space, Leaves NASA with a Stellar Legacy


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CHAMPAIGN, IL – After an impressive career spanning 14 years at NASA, former Illinois football player and Missouri native, Mike Hopkins, has announced his retirement from the agency. Hopkins, a retired U.S. Space Force Colonel, made his mark in space with 334 days spent off the Earth and five spacewalks.

Hopkins’ final mission was as commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 in 2020. This mission marked the first flight of a NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system and the launch of the SpaceX Dragon crew spacecraft “Resilience.” His last day with NASA was on May 1, 2023.

Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, expressed her gratitude to Hopkins for his dedicated service in advancing the agency’s mission. She commended his unwavering commitment to mission excellence, which will serve as an inspiration for future generations.

During the Crew-1 mission, Hopkins and his crewmates conducted numerous experiments as part of Expedition 64 aboard the International Space Station. The mission also achieved several milestones, including the first night splashdown of a U.S. crewed spacecraft since Apollo 8 and the record for the longest spaceflight by a U.S. crewed spacecraft at that time.

Shannon Walker, deputy chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, praised Hopkins for his resilience, infectious spirit of exploration, and can-do attitude. She emphasized the significant impact he had during their time together on the Crew-1 mission and wished him the best in his future endeavors.

Hopkins’ space career also includes serving as a flight engineer for the space station’s Expedition 37/38 in 2014, where he oversaw the departure of the first demonstration flight of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft and conducted extensive scientific experiments. He performed a total of five spacewalks, spending 32 hours outside the space station in a spacesuit for maintenance and upgrades.

“For over 60 years, NASA has been changing the world, demonstrating that nothing is impossible when people and nations work together,” Hopkins said. “For myself and my family, it has been a privilege to be a very small part of this amazing organization as it leads humanity’s journey to the stars. “I have loved being an astronaut and leaving the corps was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. To my crewmates, fellow astronauts, and the entire NASA family, thank you for an incredible 14 years and Godspeed.”

Born in Lebanon, Missouri, Hopkins began his NASA career in 2009 as part of the 20th astronaut class. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1991 and later earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Stanford University in 1992. Before joining NASA, Hopkins served in the U.S. Air Force and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1992. He transferred his service to the Space Force while working as a flight engineer for the International Space Station and retired from military service simultaneously with his NASA departure.

Hopkins’ achievements have earned him numerous honors throughout his career, including being named a Distinguished Graduate of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Illinois and a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Air Force Test Pilot School. He has also received multiple medals for his exceptional service.

Despite his extraterrestrial adventures, Hopkins has maintained a strong connection with his alma mater, the University of Illinois. He remains engaged with the football program, serving as a member of the Aerospace Engineering Alumni Board and the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.

As Hopkins bids farewell to NASA, his legacy as a football player turned astronaut serves as a testament to the profound impact sports can have on shaping individuals’ character and preparing them for extraordinary challenges. His grit, determination, and unwavering spirit will continue to inspire future generations of astronauts and football players alike.


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