UND’s Nyberg is home ? Olympic torch, UND hockey puck and all


David L. Dodds

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UND’s Nyberg is home ? Olympic torch, UND hockey puck and all

There was a bit of a Winter Olympics theme Sunday when UND alumna and U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg returned to Earth after nearly six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Nyberg, a 1994 UND mechanical engineering graduate, came home – to Earth – with fellow Expedition 37 space station inhabitants Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and Italian Luca Parmitano. Oh, and by the way, they'll be bringing the official Olympic torch with them. The torch, which will light the flame at the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, was flown to the ISS a few days ago along with the Expedition 38 crew that will replace Nyberg, Yurchikhin and Parmitano. Expedition 38 Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy also were scheduled to carry the torch outside the station during a spacewalk on Saturday.

Not to be upstaged by her Russian partners, Nyberg returned with a hot commodity of her own. During her time in space, she kept an official UND hockey puck among her personal belongings. It's only fitting that her alma mater's hockey legacy was so well represented, along with the Olympic torch, on the return voyage, given UND likely boasts as many as six current and former UND women's hockey players on four different Olympic rosters. Then there's the myriad former UND men's hockey players that likely will find spots on U.S. and Canadian lineups at the Winter Games.

A native of Vining, Minn., Nyberg is employed by NASA as a mission specialist and flight engineer. On May 28, she launched aboard a Soyuz TMA rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the ISS. She and her fellow crew members hold the distinction of being only the second crew ever to dock at the space station the same day they left Earth.

It took Nyberg and crew only about three hours to travel back to Kazakhstan.

While in space, Nyberg proved be popular with people around the world through her social media interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. At least one of her demonstrations – how to wash your hair in space – was a viral hit on social media and was featured on national and international television.

In August, Nyberg took time out of her busy schedule to send a message to UND summer graduates from 230 miles above the Earth.

The ISS has been continuously occupied by international teams of men and women for the past 13 years.

The station's newest Expedition 38 trio will live and work in space until May 2014.

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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