UT alumna prepares for six-month space mission

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Karen Nyberg shows off her Longhorn socks on her first mission, STS-124, in 2008. It was on this mission that Nyberg became the 50th woman in space (Photo courtesy of NASA).

The 50th woman in space and UT alumna Karen Nyberg is preparing to take off in two months for a six-month mission to the International Space Station

Nyberg will launch for the space station on May 28 with Luca Parmitano of Italy and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia for the Expedition 36-37 mission. They will comprise three members of the expedition’s six-member crew. The other three are already on the space station.  

Nyberg studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at North Dakota State University and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from UT in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The resources and faculty available at UT were valuable parts of how her career has taken shape, Nyberg said during a press conference Tuesday at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

“I was actually able to work directly with people at NASA while I was in graduate school, and I think that was valuable,” Nyberg said. “I think my advisor at UT was an incredible person and very supportive. I love Austin and I love UT, so it was a great experience.”

During the conference Nyberg talked about her mental and physical preparation for the six-month stay in space and how she will spend her time while she is there. Nyberg said there is no way to truly mentally prepare for this type of journey, but she plans to take trinkets from home as a way to remain close with her husband and son. She also plans to continue several of her hobbies, including sewing and drawing, as leisure activities while aboard the station.

Nyberg said she is considering various forms of social media as a way to share her experiences with those on Earth.

“I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do Twitter, but I have been using Pinterest for a couple of years and absolutely love it because of my other hobbies,” Nyberg said. “I think it would be neat to add onto that while I’m there, if I can. Definitely we’re going to do as much as we can to share what we’re doing up there with the rest of the world.” 

Nyberg said her previous experience running marathons correlates well to both the physical and mental aspects of taking such a long journey away from her family.

“I think one thing marathons teach you is, invariably, when you’re in the middle of a marathon, somewhere between mile 15 and 25, there comes a point when you just can’t stand it anymore and want to quit really badly,” Nyberg said. “You find a way to power through and at the end you’re so happy you did it.”

Rebekah Sosland, aerospace engineering senior and treasurer for Women In Aerospace for Leadership and Development, said Nyberg is a role model for young women around the world who want to develop their passion for science and engineering.

“Women going into space is an incredible part of history, and I think that having Karen represent that population is really important, especially to young women and girls out there,” Sosland said. “They need to realize that if they love math and science and engineering, they can be a part of it and there’s nothing holding them back from that. The men’s world that it used to be, that’s no longer the case.”

Published on March 20, 2013 as "UT alumna prepare for mission to space station".