Astronaut Karen Nyberg is just a few weeks from launching for her long-duration mission to the International Space Station (ISS). As the mother of a young son, Karen says she will be savoring the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend before departing for space.
In this interview, Karen answers questions from Parenting magazine’s Elina Bolokhova about the unique aspects of being an astronaut mom, how she is preparing for her spaceflight, and family life while living 250 miles above Earth for the next several months.
Karen is not the first ISS astronaut to face the challenge of parenting from space. Many astronauts, male and female, have served in space with spouses and children on Earth. Two previous female astronauts have left the bounds of Earth to work in space for extended missions while having children at home. Both Nicole Stott and Cady Coleman served as Flight Engineers for long-duration missions with elementary-school-aged sons.
Karen has had a long time to prepare the mission and subsequent absence from family. Named to this flight in early 2011, she and her crew have spent about half of their time each year traveling to different training facilities across the globe. Once in space, astronauts have numerous ways to stay connected with their friends and family. They have email capability, which is “synched” through Mission Control daily, as well as use of an Internet Protocol phone – so they can literally call friends and family whenever they have free time and communications satellite coverage. They also have weekly video conferences, usually planned for the weekends.
All three astronauts emphasize that while they miss their families immensely while in-orbit, the work and science research being achieved on the ISS is invaluable to researchers back on Earth and makes it all worthwhile.
Dr. Karen Nyberg is from Vining, Minnesota, and she was selected as an astronaut by NASA in July 2000. Following the completion of two years of training and evaluation, she was assigned technical duties such as Crew Support Astronaut for the Expedition 6 team during their 6-month mission aboard the International Space Station. Dr. Nyberg completed her first spaceflight in 2008 on STS-124, and she has logged more than 13 days in space. She is assigned to the Expedition 36 crew as a flight engineer and is scheduled to fly to the ISS aboard Soyuz 35 on May 28, 2013. Prior to selection as an astronaut, Dr. Nyberg was a co-op at NASA Johnson Space Center from 1991-1995 working in a variety of areas. She received a patent for work in 1991 on Robot Friendly Probe and Socket Assembly. Her recreational interests include running, sewing, drawing and painting, backpacking, playing the piano, and spending time with her family. She holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering.