On Saturday, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, a native of Lebanon who grew up on a Richland-area farm, will command one of the first missions aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft as it carries U.S. and Japanese astronauts to the International Space Station. There they will remain in orbit over Earth for six months on a scientific mission.
NASA said the mission will be just the second crewed flight for the Crew Dragon, and for Hopkins, it will be his second long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. In 2013, Hopkins launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and in total, he’s logged 166 days in space, NASA said.
“I remember getting up there and you’re just kind of pinching yourself,” Hopkins, a U.S. Space Force colonel, told the USA TODAY Network on Friday. “And then the sad thing is when you get back, it goes like that (snaps fingers) and now seven years later you’re sitting there going did I really go up there? Did that really happen?”
The Crew Dragon is intended to ferry astronauts round-trip between Earth and the space station. Along with another spacecraft, the Boeing Starliner, it is making it again possible to launch humans into space from U.S. soil, NASA said.
The launch has a Springfield connection: The Discovery Center said Friday that in October, NASA asked the center’s executive director, Rob Blevins, to take part in a “prelaunch production” for the Crew Dragon astronauts. It is to be broadcast on NASA social media and NASA TV. The launch from Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center is currently set for 6:49 p.m. Central time on Saturday.
“I’m still over-the-moon with excitement for the launch this Saturday,” Blevins said in a news release issued by the Discovery Center on Friday. He said local children who attend the Discovery Center’s school will be part of the production, cheering on Hopkins and the astronauts as they lift off of the Earth’s surface.
The flight crew includes NASA astronauts Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover, accompanied by Soichi Noguchi from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.