AE Alum Chosen for 2009 Astronaut Class
A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force in Alexandria, Virginia, Hopkins has been selected as a member of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s 2009 astronaut candidate class. Hopkins’ inclusion brings to four the number of astronauts the AE Department has produced; the others have been Col. Lee Archambault, BS 82, MS 84; Capt. Scott D. Altman, BS 81; and Col. Steven R. Nagel, BS 69.
Watching early successes of the Space Shuttle program inspired Hopkins when he was a high schooler. After earning degrees at Illinois and Stanford, he prepared for the honor when he “completed my private pilot’s license, learned how to scuba dive, attended the USAF Test Pilot School as a flight test engineer, tried to do the best job I could throughout my career, and applied, applied, applied.”
No preparation could have gotten Hopkins ready, however, for the shock he felt when a phone call let him know the dream had become reality. “I was flooded with emotions: overwhelmed, shocked, thrilled, excited, humbled and thankful. My next reaction was that I needed to call my wife, who has been my biggest supporter as I've pursued this lifelong dream.”
One of nine men and women selected from among 3,500 applicants, Hopkins will be relocating to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in August. The 40-year-old native of Lebanon, Missouri, had been working as special assistant to the Vice Chairman (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon.
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, said Hopkins and others in the 2009 astronaut candidate class will play important roles for NASA in the future. “In addition to flying in space, astronauts participate in every aspect of human spaceflight, sharing their expertise with engineers and managers across the country. We look forward to working with them as we transcend from the shuttle to our future exploration of space, and continue the important engineering and scientific discoveries aboard the International Space Station,” Gerstenmaier said.
In addition to earning the degree that has helped pave Hopkins’ way into space, he also achieved a memorable football career during his years at Illinois. The four-year letter winner (1988-91) played defensive back under John Mackovic, the two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, and earned the squad's Special Teams Player of the Year award in 1989. His collegiate accomplishments translated into success off the field after he garnered nearly every academic award available.
Hopkins was a first-team Academic All-American, a three-time first-team Academic All-Big Ten selection, a George Huff Award winner, an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winner and a recipient of the 1992 Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor, awarded to the student demonstrating proficiency in scholarship and academics at each conference institution. In 1989, he won the team's scholar-athlete award, but the best award to describe Hopkins came in 1990. After his junior season, the defensive back received Illinois' Bruce Capel Award, symbolic of the player who displays the greatest courage and determination.