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updated: 9/26/2013 8:35 AM

Newest American on space station is Illinois alum

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Associated Press

URBANA -- An American who's now aboard the International Space Station is a University of Illinois alum who once played football for the school.

Mike Hopkins and two Russians traveled in a Soyuz capsule Wednesday after blasting off from a launch pad in Kazakhstan to dock with the space station. They'll spend six months at the orbiting outpost.

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The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports the 44-year-old Air Force colonel earned a degree in aerospace engineering from Illinois in 1991.

Officials at the school say he's the sixth alumnus to become an astronaut.

Hopkins was raised on a farm in Richland, Mo. He went to Illinois for the engineering school and walked on to the football team, eventually earning a scholarship and becoming a starting player who was co-captain his senior year.

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