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Alum, Karen Nyberg, is the 50th Woman in Space and First Person to Operate Three Robotic Arms

photo of Karen Nyberg floating in the shuttle wearing UT longhorn socks

Mission Specialist Dr. Karen Nyberg displays Longhorn Pride in orange socks while working aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.


AUSTIN, TEXAS—July 7, 2008

The Department of Mechanical Engineering would like to congratulate Dr. Karen L. Nyberg (MSME 1996, Ph.D. 1996), who returned safely and successfully from space June 14th. Dr. Nyberg has just made history as the 50th woman in space and the first person to operate three different robot arms in space. "The three arms are similar and basically the same mechanically," says Dr. Nyberg.

Dr. Nyberg was aboard the shuttle Discovery, STS-124 (May 31 to June 14, 2008) the 123rd Space Shuttle flight, and the 26th Shuttle flight to the International Space Station. STS-124 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and docked with the International Space Station on June 2nd, to deliver the Japanese Experiment Module-Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System. STS-124 Shuttle astronauts delivered the 37-foot (11-meter) Kibo lab, added its rooftop storage room and conducted three spacewalks to maintain the station and to prime the new Japanese module's robotic arm for work during nine days docked at the orbiting laboratory. This was the second of three flights to launch components to complete the Japanese Kib? laboratory. STS-124 also delivered a new station crewmember, Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff. He replaced Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Garrett Riesman, who returned to Earth with the STS-124 crew. The STS-124 mission was completed in 218 orbits, traveling 5,735.643 miles in 13 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and 7 seconds.

Dr. Nyberg grew up in Vining, Minnesota, where her parents still live. She graduated from Henning Public High School, in Henning, Minnesota, in 1988. She received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of North Dakota, in 1994. She earned her M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, in 1996 and her Ph.D. in 1998 (studying under former ME Chair, Dr. Ken Diller). Dr. Nyberg's graduate research concentrated on work in the BioHeat Transfer Laboratory, where she investigated human thermoregulation and experimental metabolic testing and control, specifically related to the control of thermal neutrality in space suits. Her recreational interests include running, sewing, drawing and painting, backpacking, piano, and spending time with her dogs.

Official Astronaut portrait of Karen Nyberg

Mission Specialist Karen Nyberg


Dr. Nyberg began work at Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX) in 1991. She received a patent for work she completed in 1991 on Robot Friendly Probe and Socket Assembly. In 1998, after completing her doctorate, she accepted a position with the Crew and Thermal Systems Division, working as an Environmental Control Systems Engineer to improve space suit thermal control systems and evaluate firefighter suit cooling technologies. Additionally, she provided conceptual designs of the thermal control system for the Advanced Mars and Lunar Lander Mission studies, and environmental control system analysis for a collapsible hyperbaric chamber.

She was selected as an Astronaut Candidate by NASA in July 2000, and after completing two years of training and evaluation, she qualified as a Mission Specialist and was assigned for technical duties in the Astronaut Office Station Operations Branch, where she served as Crew Support Astronaut for the Expedition 6 crew during their six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. In 2006, Dr. Nyberg took part in NEEMO 10, a deep-sea training and simulation exercise at the Aquarius underwater laboratory to help NASA prepare for the return of astronauts to the moon and eventual manned missions to Mars.

She has won many awards, which include the UND Young Alumni Achievement Award (2004), Space Act Award (1993); NASA JSC Patent Application Award (1993); NASA Tech Briefs Award (1993); NASA JSC Cooperative Education Special Achievement Award (1994); Joyce Medalen Society of Women Engineers Award (1993-94); D.J. Robertson Award of Academic Achievement (1992); University of North Dakota School of Engineering & Mines Meritorious Service Award (1991-1992).

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