Dragon riders: Meet the next astronauts to launch from Florida with SpaceX

3 NASA astronauts, 1 JAXA astronaut launching in SpaceX Dragon nicknamed Resilience

In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, image released by SpaceX/NASA, NASAs SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts, from left, mission specialist Shannon Walker, pilot Victor Glover, and Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, all NASA astronauts, and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut, gesture during crew equipment interface testing at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. SpaceXs second astronaut flight is off until mid-November 2020 because red lacquer dripped into tiny vent holes in two rocket engines that now must be replaced. (SpaceX/NASA via AP) (Uncredited, Here is our public domain dedication. https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – SpaceX is on the verge of launching its second ever group of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in November, following the historic return to human spaceflight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this year.

Four astronauts -- three Americans and one Japanese-- will become the next to liftoff in SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Nov. 14. The second-ever crewed launch of the private spacecraft will mark the first operation mission to the International Space Station for Dragon. NASA Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launched on the first Dragon test flight with astronauts to the space station in May and successfully splashed down in August, becoming the first Dragon riders and NASA astronauts to launch from American soil since 2011.

With the second astronaut launch, SpaceX will double the number of people on Dragon and these crew members will be staying on the space station for about six months.

The four astronauts have named their Dragon spacecraft, Resilience. After liftoff on Nov. 15 at 7:27 p.m., the spacecraft will dock at the space station about eight and a half hours later.

Meet the international crew set to become the second round of Dragon riders below:

Mike Hopkins, Dragon commander

In October 2013, aboard International Space Station Expedition 37 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins prepares the Fluids Integrated Rack for an experiment. (Image: NASA) (WKMG 2020)

Col. Michael Hopkins, 51, will be the spacecraft commander for this Dragon flight to the ISS. As the commander, Hopkins will be responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to splashdown.

Hopkins served in the U.S. Air Force as a test pilot and engineer. He was selected in 2009 to be a NASA astronaut, just before the end of the shuttle program. He launched with NASA’s Russian partners in Kazakhstan on the Soyuz spacecraft, spending 166 days on the space station.

A Missouri native, Hopkins, who grew up on a farm outside Richland, said he wouldn’t be able to do any space exploring without his family support system.

“She is the rock that keeps our family going, and it’s so extremely important,” Hopkins said of his wife, Julie. They have two sons together.

Launching again from the U.S. is essential, Hopkins told News 6 in August 2018.

“I think you, if you want to be a leader in space, we need to be able to launch our own astronauts into space,” Hopkins said.

The veteran astronaut can’t wait to see his crewmate, Victor Glover, experience the weightlessness of space for the first time.

“The great thing for me is, of course, I’ve had opportunity to do all those firsts,” he said. “But now, I get to watch him go through all of those firsts, and that’s going to be fantastic.”

While onboard the space station, Hopkins plans to transfer to the U.S. Space Force, reports Spacenews.com. The U.S. chief of space operations Gen. John Raymond will swear Hopkins in during a ceremony sometime during his six-month stay on the space station.

Hopkins has numerous medals for his military service, including two Air Force Commendation Medals and four Air Force Achievement Medals. He was also the team captain of the 1991 University of Illinois football team where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.

When he is not busy with astronaut duties, Hopkins enjoys backpacking, camping, snow skiing, weight lifting, running, hockey and football, according to his NASA bio.

Victor Glover, Dragon pilot

NASA Astronaut Victor Glover during EVA training in 2014. (WKMG 2020)

When Victor Glover, 44, heard his name called as one of the astronauts who will fly on Crew Dragon’s first operational mission to the space station, he wasn’t thinking about himself.

“I was thinking about my classmates I trained to be an astronaut with, all my buddies that are test pilots,” Glover told News 6 in August 2018. “This is like for all of us, this is a dream for any test pilot, and so for all of my friends in the astronaut office, it just felt good to be up there representing all of us.”

Glover is a U.S. Navy commander and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School. During his career as a test pilot, he flew the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet and EA‐18G Growler aircraft.

Prior to being picked for the NASA astronaut program in 2013, Glover was a legislative fellow in the U.S. Senate where he was serving when he was chosen for astronaut training.

The Crew-1 mission aboard Dragon Resilience will be Glover’s first spaceflight. He’s looking forward to all the firsts that come with it. Glover will become the first Black person to be an expedition crew member on the International Space Station.

“Every moment will be the first time I’ve done that. The first week will be my first first week, the first month will be my first month,” Glover said of going to the space station. “I am looking forward to that first moment when there’s a break in the action and there’s a window near me and I can look back and see the Earth, you know, spaceship Earth.”

While this will be Glover’s first spaceflight, he has accumulated 3,000 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft and conducted more than 400 carrier arrested landings and 24 combat missions.

Glover was selected for the Crew-1 mission in August 2018, along with Hopkins. Two more astronauts were later added to the mission. Glover will be the pilot of the Dragon spacecraft and second-in-command following Hopkins. In this role, Glover is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance.

A California-native, Glover is married to Dionna (Odom) Glover, also from California. They have four children.

He has a bachelor’s in engineering from California Polytechnic State University, a master’s in Flight Test Engineering from Air University at Edwards Air Force Base, and two more master’s degrees, and another in military operational art and science.

Shannon Walker, mission specialist

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, Expedition 25 flight engineer, is pictured on Nov. 7, 2010 near the windows in the Cupola of the International Space Station. (Image: NASA) (WKMG 2020)

Walker, 55, a Houston-native and experienced astronaut, was assigned to the Crew-1 flight in February 2020. This will mark her second stay on the International Space Station and second spacecraft.

Prior to being selected to be an astronaut in 2004, Walker began her career at the U.S. space agency at the Johnson Space Center in 1987. She was a robotics flight controller for the Space Shuttle Program, working in the Mission Control Center for at least seven space shuttle flights.

In June 2010, four years after completing her astronaut training, Walker launched to the space station on her first long-duration mission as a crew member for Expedition 24/25. Walker launched on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and served as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station. She spent 161 days in space conducting more than 130 microgravity experiments during her stay, according to NASA.

Walker will be a mission specialist for the Crew-1 flight, along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Once on the ISS, Walker will be a flight engineer for Expedition 64.

Walker lives in Houston with her husband, Andy Thomas, who is also an astronaut. Outside of her astronaut day-job, Walker enjoys cooking, running, weight training, camping and travel.

She has a doctorate of philosophy in space physics, as well as a master’s in science and bachelor’s degree in physics, all from Rice University. Bonus fact: While in graduate school, Walker studied the solar wind and how it interacts with Venus' atmosphere.

Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist

JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi (Image: NASA) (WKMG 2020)

Soichi Noguchi, 55, is a veteran astronaut with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA. He was selected as an astronaut in 1996 and trained at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as well as the Russian Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center before he was assigned to his first spaceflight in 2001.

Soichi has spent more than six months in space throughout his spaceflight career. His missions include flying on space shuttle Discovery in 2005 and becoming the first Japanese astronaut to perform a spacewalk on the space station. In 2009, he launched on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the space station, spending more than 163 days in space.

Soichi is one of eight Japanese astronauts to have lived onboard the space station, according to Supercluster’s Astronaut Database.

He served as the chief of the JAXA astronaut group for four years and in July 2019 began training to fly on the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the space station. Dragon Resilience will mark the third spacecraft he will fly in.

The JAXA astronaut will serve as a mission specialist for Crew-1, working with the commander, Hopkins, and pilot, Glover, to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight, and keeping watch on timelines, telemetry and consumables.

This year, Soichi graduated with a doctorate in philosophy in advanced interdisciplinary studies from the University of Tokyo. He also has a master’s and bachelor degrees in aeronautical engineering, also from the University of Tokyo.

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