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Astronaut Mom Karen Nyberg Shares Her Perspective Changer
Dr. Karen Nyberg is an engineer, astronaut, and artist who has nearly thirty years of experience in human spaceflight. She is also a mother.
When Karen Nyberg was eight years old she sewed her first shirt. It was around this time that the budding seamstress and artist looked up at the night sky and decided she wanted to be an astronaut. “My entire life,” she says, “I’ve had two main passions: space, of course, and creating things.”
In 2008, her childhood aspirations turned reality, as she became the 50th woman in space. Below are just a few roles that Dr. Nyberg plays.
Karen was selected as a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps in 2000. She made her first trip to space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2008, during the height of International Space Station construction. Part of her mission was delivering and installing the Japanese Laboratory. On her second spaceflight in 2013, Karen lived and worked at the International Space Station for 166 days.
On Karen’s second spaceflight in 2013, her son Jack was only three years old. Every night she spent in space, she recorded him an iPad video. “Hi Jack, I made it to space. See my hair floats like I told you it would. I miss you already and I LOVE YOU.” Karen showed Jack everything from the joys of zero gravity, the oddities of space food, and views out the window. Sometimes she’d just sit quietly and sing to him. The result is an amazing archive; 166 videos of a mom saying, “Hello, I love you and I miss you.”
As a lifelong lover of art and sewing, Karen took quilting materials to space. From space, she says, the simple act of laying fabric down, cutting pieces straight, or getting the correct seam allowance were complicated by zero gravity. Undeterred, she became the first person to quilt from space, crafting a star-themed block, and inviting others to sew their own. In response, NASA received over 2400 quilt squares from around the world, many of which were accompanied by letters and personal stories of how space travel impacted their lives. Those blocks formed a quilt shown at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, 2014.
Prior to becoming an astronaut, Karen worked as an Environmental Control Systems Engineer at the Johnson Space Center. Recently retired from NASA. Karen is currently focusing on conservation and sustainability, and the responsibility of technology to strive to meet our ecological needs.
Home Sweet Home
Now home in Houston with her husband, fellow astronaut Doug Hurley, Karen says there are so many things she misses about space. “I miss the freedom of floating, I miss the camaraderie with our international crew… we would talk, we would tell stories. What I miss the most though, is the ability to go to our cupola, and just watch the Earth go by. It is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Seeing the Earth from that vantage point is truly a perspective changer.”
“I’ve had an amazing career as an astronaut,” she adds, “but now that I’ve decided to move on, I’m very excited to be able to spend the time and the energy on textile artworks.” She uses her time in space, pictures she took, and experiences in her personal life to inform and inspire her newest venture.
That doesn’t mean she’s leaving space behind. “What I’d really like to do,” she shares, “is bring attention to space and science and the beauty of our Earth in a fun way.”