Traveling at a speed of nearly 4,000 miles per hour gives a whole new meaning to the local cheer, "Go Illini."
Many great young people have come through the University of Illinois and gone on to do great things. But few of them have flown as high as Mike Hopkins, a student-athlete in the late 1980s and early '90s who blasted off into space last week for a six-month mission at the International Space Station.
Hopkins' career before and after the UI demonstrates that all things are possible for talented people who set their goals high and then work their hardest to make them reality.
One of six UI alums who've joined the astronaut corps, Hopkins grew up in the small town of Lebanon, Mo., where he dreamed of exploring space. He also dreamed of playing big-time college football, coming to the UI to do both.
He was a walk-on defensive back who won a scholarship, became a starter, was honored as a team captain and played in four bowl games. In the classroom, Hopkins excelled as an aeronautical engineering major and participated in ROTC with the goal of joining the U.S. Air Force after graduation.
He ultimately rose to the rank of colonel, earned a master's degree in engineering from Stanford, worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., and, on his fourth try, was accepted to join the astronaut corps in 2009.
Impressive doesn't begin to describe what Hopkins has accomplished in his life. Now he's on his greatest and most challenging adventure, representing his country on an important mission aimed at improving the world's understanding of science. The schedule calls for Hopkins to return to Earth in March. If UI officials are smart, they'll arrange for this All-American to return to campus and tell everyone what it was like.