Dr. Karen Nyberg is an engineer, astronaut, and textile artist who, through nearly thirty years of experience in human spaceflight, has gained an appreciation for the value of working within and across diverse political ideologies, cultural values, and world views to advance critical missions.

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 (ISS) construction, delivering and installing the Japanese Laboratory. On her second spaceflight in 2013, Karen launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and lived and worked at ISS for 166 days.

Prior to astronaut selection, Karen worked as an Environmental Control Systems Engineer at the Johnson Space Center where she led several design and analysis initiatives in the areas of space vehicle and space suit thermal and environmental control.

Recently retired from NASA, Karen is currently pursuing interests in the areas of conservation and sustainability, fully appreciating the responsibility for innovation and technology to strive to meet those needs. She serves as an ambassador and advisor for Osomtex® upcycled yarns and fabrics, promoting a circular economy in the textile industry.

Karen received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota and graduate degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and has been honored with the highest alumni award from each alma mater. She serves on the Board of Directors for the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation, supporting the education and research goals of the UND Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.


What is your background, where did you grow up?

I grew up in Vining, Minnesota, a rural community with a population of less than 100. After high school, I set out to increasingly larger cities; first Grand Forks, ND to study Mechanical Engineering, then Austin, TX for graduate school. Finally, I moved to Houston where I worked as an engineer at the Johnson Space Center before becoming an astronaut in 2000.


When did you first become interested in space?

I was 8 years old when NASA picked its first female astronauts. At the same time, there was a lot of talk of the new reusable Space Shuttle that was in development and would first fly when I was 11. I think both of those sparked my interest in space. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an astronaut.


What do you think the biggest issue facing the industry today?

With more and more access to space worldwide, I see one of the biggest issues we may face is the use of space resources, how space traffic is managed, and how to assure equitable and sustainable use by everyone.


What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy creating textile art. I love nature, the outdoors, hiking, and spending time with my husband, our son, and our two energetic labrador retrievers.


What is your favorite movie and why?

I could probably pick a favorite movie from several different genres, but I was particularly moved by the human story of friendship, patience, and hope in The Shawshank Redemption.

What are some of your favorite books?

A couple of my favorite books are A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

What are you reading now?

I am currently reading The Sixth Extinction, an Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Where do you see the space industry in ten years?

We are in the middle of a paradigm shift in the space industry, where, as much as we are exploring space, we are using it. In ten years, I am hopeful that humans will have established a presence on the moon, Low Earth Orbit will be very active with a wide range of scientific research to benefit humanity, and a growing number of people will have had the opportunity to experience spaceflight.

What would you tell people just starting out in the space industry?

Share what you do and what it means for the future with others, especially children. It is inspiring!


What three words best describe you?

Introspective, Creative, Loyal

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