In the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 37/38 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA (left), Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov (center) and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy (right) clasp hands in front of the first stage engines of the Soyuz booster rocket Sept. 20 as they completed a final inspection of their Soyuz spacecraft.
James Dean, Florida Today
BREVARD, Fla. (USA TODAY) -- NASA astronaut and fitness nut Mike Hopkins is set to lift off to the International Space Station Wednesday with a pair of cosmonauts who will help Russia celebrate its role as Winter Olympics host.
The crew is scheduled to launch at 4:58 p.m. EDT aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and arrive at the station less than six hours later.
"As you can imagine, very excited, a little bit nervous but also very confident," Hopkins said during a news conference Tuesday of his feelings before launching into space for the first time.
A 44-year-old Air Force colonel and flight test engineer, Hopkins will be the first member of NASA's 2009 astronaut class to fly in space.
The Missouri native plans to promote physical fitness during his roughly six-month expedition.
He was a defensive back and captain for the University of Illinois football team, and also enjoys backpacking, camping, snow skiing, weight lifting, running and hockey, according to his NASA biography.
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At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 37/38 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA answers a question from a reporter Sept. 4, 2013.(Photo: NASA)
On Facebook and Twitter, NASA will feature his exercise regimen - especially important in microgravity to counteract bone and muscle loss - through the "Train like an Astronaut" program.
The first-time flier will strap into the Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft with fellow rookie Sergey Ryazanskiy, 38, and Oleg Kotov, a 47-year-old veteran of two station expeditions totaling nearly a year.
Each will celebrate a birthday in orbit during the next three months.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy plan to carry an unlit Olympic torch on a spacewalk after another crew delivers it in November, as part of the relay leading up to the Sochi games in February.
"We would like to showcase our Olympic torch in space," Kotov said Tuesday, through a translator. "So we will try to do it in a beautiful manner, and I think millions of people will be able to see it live on TV."
November will also mark the 15th anniversary of the launch of the station's first module.
The new crew will join an American, Italian and Russian already aboard the station. They could welcome a new U.S. cargo spacecraft as early as this weekend.