Astronaut Karen Nyberg will soon fly into space on the STS-124 space shuttle mission. STS-124 will be her first spaceflight, but it will not be her first NASA mission. Her first mission was on the NEEMO project two years ago.
NEEMO stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations. The project sends crews of NASA astronauts and others to live in an underwater laboratory. Astronauts in NEEMO experience some of the same challenges as astronauts in space.
Nyberg said living in the underwater habitat helped her get ready for being in space. She said it was very similar to what it will be like in space, especially living with a small number of people where no one can leave.
Nyberg has worked at NASA since she was in college. She started as a co-op student at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Co-op students go to school part of the year and work the rest of the year. Being a co-op student at NASA helps students know if they want to work for NASA someday.
Nyberg worked at NASA while studying to be an engineer. After college, she continued working for NASA. A few years later she applied to be an astronaut. She wanted to be an astronaut ever since she was a kid.
"I chose engineering because I knew that was a path to be an astronaut, but I also chose engineering because it was something I was interested in even if I didn't become an astronaut," she said.
While working at NASA as a student, Nyberg helped design a robot. The robot can be used in space to install equipment on the space station. Nyberg received a patent for her design. A patent gives inventors credit for what they make.
Nyberg will again be working with robots when she is in space. When Nyberg and the other astronauts on the STS-124 mission go into space, they will be taking a new lab to the International Space Station. Nyberg will use three different robotic arms to help install the lab.
She will use the robotic arms on the space shuttle and the space station to install the second of three pieces of the Japanese lab "Kibo." The first piece was carried to the space station in March 2008. Nyberg's mission will take up the main part of the lab and the lab's robotic arm. Nyberg will use Kibo's robotic arm once it is ready.
"This is a very important mission for Japan," Nyberg said. "It's just another step in the international partnership of the International Space Station.
"Getting these international partners on there is an important part of the space station. Once we get the space station to the point where it needs to be, then we can concentrate on what it was built to do, which is science, and then concentrate on other adventures."
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Heather R. Smith/ NASA Educational Technology Services