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UND grad returning to space in May for six months on the International Space Station

A UND graduate who became the 50th woman in space said the resilience she's earned by running marathons will ease tough nights during her six-month space mission.

Karen Nyberg talks about life as an astronaut
Karen Nyberg, a UND alumnus, talks about life as an astronaut during a gathering with UND students and faculty at UND's Clifford Hall Thursday. (Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald)

A UND graduate who became the 50th woman in space said the resilience she's earned by running marathons will ease tough nights during her six-month space mission.

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, an avid runner, said marathons taught her to continue even when she was desperate to stop.

"You miss your family so dearly at times and think, 'How in the world am I going to make it tomorrow,'" she said Tuesday. "But you power through it. You find the strength you need to get the job done."

Nyberg will join astronauts Luca Parmitano of Italy and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia for the May 28 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, orbiting 248 miles above the Earth's surface. All three spoke during an online press conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The mission, called Expeditions 36 and 37, will be her second foray into space since 2008, when she joined a crew on the space station for almost 14 days.


Training, goals

The trio said training in several areas was essential in preparing for the mission, which focuses their work on science, technology and exploration.

Most of their training revolved around worst-case scenarios, such as ammonia leaks that could send the crew home, Nyberg said. "If something (like that) happens, we need to be able to react very, very quickly, and we obviously don't expect that to happen and hope it doesn't."

One of their main objectives will be using the 28,954 cubic-foot space station as a lab, conducting experiments to understand what happens to different substances when there is very little gravity. For example, they will study colloidal fluid, often used as a stabilizer in household products, to determine which products have longer shelf lives in microgravity, she said.

"Gravity plays a big role in what those particles are doing," she said. "If we study them in space, we can understand what's happening on a molecular level."

Anywhere between 130 and 150 experiments run at any given time at the space station, sometimes requiring heavy involvement from astronauts, said Parmitano.

Far from home

All three noted that half a year is a long time to be away from home, and said they'd be bringing along trinkets and photos from family as mementos.


Nyberg, a native of Vining, Minn., in Ottertail County, said she hopes she can capture images of the town from space. "I think it'll be special for me."

She was selected to be an astronaut in 2000, served in several branches of space operations since then and once supported a crew during a six month mission.

A 1994 graduate of UND, she was honored with the UND Sioux award in 2009.

Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1736; or send e-mail to jjohnson@gfherald.com .

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