The Softer Side of Space: A Profile of Astronaut Karen Nyberg
Mention the words "NASA Astronaut" and you’ll usually conjure up the image of a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist. Yet, rarely are we given the chance to consider the other dimensions to this elite group of explorers or that they may share some common hobbies many of us more Earth-bound citizens enjoy.
Enter astronaut Karen Nyberg, an accomplished woman preparing for her second mission to space this May. Nyberg holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, which may lead people to believe she is focused solely on technical matters, but as with many, there’s a softer side to this Midwesterner, one that may catch many by surprise.
Nyberg grew up the small town of Vining, Minn., about 80 miles southeast of Fargo, N.D., where she was the fifth of six children. There, she grew up learning a lot of practical skills including sewing.
“My mom and dad are both very creative people and made a lot for all of us kids - everything from snowmobile suits to prom dresses.” said Nyberg. “My mom taught me to sew when I was about five or six years old.”
Now as an adult, Karen still enjoys those creative crafts including sewing and quilting. “I love it. I would sew all day every day if I could, I love it that much,” Karen said. She especially enjoys quilting and appliqué work and used those skills to create a lot of the décor for her son’s nursery before he was born. “I haven't made any clothing items for quite some time but I have sewn drapes and pillows for the house and of course, lots of quilts and other things that I've given as gifts.”
Nyberg plans to bring sewing and quilting supplies with her on her six-month-long expedition to space. She’s also packed a sketch book and pencils.
“I’m really hoping to spend some of my free time (on-orbit) drawing,” said Nyberg. “I used to mostly draw portraits, and gave them to friends, but I haven’t done it in a long time. I am hoping I can get back to some of that while I am in space.”
Just one example of the varied backgrounds and interests for NASA people whose career is dedicated to science and technology, Nyberg says she loves the creative side of these art forms.
“I love to create,” said Nyberg. “I would really like people to see you can have a job like this, which is very technical, and still have hobbies that are not.”
› Read about other astronaut artists
She admits that with a young son and her training schedule, she doesn’t get as much time for these pastimes, nor one of her other favorite activities: running.
“I love it,” said Nyberg. “I see people out there running outside and I get jealous because I am not out there.”
Nyberg started running as a graduate student while at the University of Texas and developed a love for long-distance running, and participated in her first marathon there. Since then, she has completed nine marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 2007 in tandem with fellow astronaut Sunita Williams who ran the marathon while in orbit on the International Space Station.
› Read about Sunita Williams and Karen Nyberg running Boston Marathon
Karen will have no trouble fitting in running once she is in space. Space station astronauts are scheduled for a minimum of two hours of exercise each day as a way to combat bone and muscle loss.
To run in space, Nyberg will have to use a specially designed treadmill that uses a harness to help hold her in place. “I am told it takes a little getting used to,” said Nyberg, who confesses she avoids running on treadmills when she can on Earth.
“And weather conditions didn’t matter to me. It could be raining, snowing, windy, dry, hot, cold - I would go out and run,” said Nyberg. “And, I am the type of person that never listens to music when I run. It’s good ‘thinking time’ for me.”
Nyberg will have two other workout options while living in space: the exercise bicycle and a one-of-a-kind resistive exercise device. Crew member workouts are closely monitored by their flight surgeons and trainers on the ground, and results are studied to help improve not only future crew members, but also have beneficial impacts for Earthlings.
One of those studies is the Pro K experiment, which is a nutrition study exploring ways to modify the astronauts diets to minimize bone loss experienced in space. Understanding the relationship of nutrition to bone loss is potentially valuable for patients suffering from bone loss on Earth as well.
› Read more about Pro K
› Read about recently published paper in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research
Nyberg will launch to the space station on May 28. You can watch her launch on NASA TV. For the schedule and streaming information visit www.nasa.gov/ntv
Or to learn more or follow along with Karen’s mission, explore these options:
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› Learn more about the benefits of space station research
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› Learn more about research opportunities in space
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