|UND alum and NASA astronaut completes underwater training|
UND engineering alum and astronaut Karen Nyberg recently completed a critical underwater training mission as part of her intensive preparation for a future space flight. Working under water in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Aquarius lab is great analog for what we do in space, says Nyberg, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from UND in 1994.
Nyberg, who claims Vining, Minn., as her home town, made the NASA cut as a mission specialist in 2000; she scored the submarine lab gig -- seven days in cramped quarters with five other people -- under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 10 project.
We train in a lot of different areas on the earth to get ready for spaceflight, says Nyberg, who also earned the School of Engineering and Mines Meritorious Service Award for 1991-92 and the Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2004. This lab holds a lot of pieces of the spaceflight puzzle.
The submerged crew imitated moonwalks in controlled extravehicular undersea activities and tested new communications, navigation, and robotic techniques that will be utilized in future Moon and other space missions, Nyberg explained. I've been out once a day every day that I've been here.
I really looked forward to this mission because of all the opportunities that it offered to live and work in an environment that's very similar to the Space Station, says Nyberg, an expert in mission-critical human temperature regulation in space suits. It was a real mission -- this isn't a simulation. Everything we did there can have an effect. And you cannot just run out in case of an emergency. It took the aquanauts about 17 hours to rise safely from the lab that sits in about 70 feet of water.
Nyberg credits her engineering education at UND for preparing her to solve real-world problems on the go. I value the engineering education I got at UND because it prepared me to learn all about challenging environments, says Nyberg. I understand how everything works, especially when it comes to the science experiments, working with new equipment, analyzing new situations -- engineering helped me to become well-rounded in those areas.
It's all about putting her hard-won education and training to good use -- even in the extremely cozy setting of a space station.
Space flight is a close environment, Nyberg notes. But for me, it's very comfortable -- this undersea lab is the size of one or two rooms in the Space Station, and it's much larger than the Space Shuttle, where there are seven people up there for 10 days or more. Yes, it was a little crowded (in the underwater lab), we bumped into each other, but we didn't had any issues with living in a small space.
Nyberg says she hopes to make it to the Moon on one of the new generation of space capsules that will replace the Shuttle, which is set to be retired in 2020. She's currently assigned to NASA's space shuttle and exploration branches. She'll serve in technical assignments until NASA books her on a space flight.