Karen Nyberg Wields More than Just Ground Breaking Research

Karen Nyberg's Research
Karen Nyberg Captures Research and Beauty

Astronaut Dr. Karen Nyberg floated in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS) while most scientists had to sit out during the government shutdown, and took pictures of the flight to send to Earth. With a 3-year-old son and husband at home, Karen Nyberg relies heavily on social media to interact with family and the public by tweeting, pinning and posting pictures, and in doing so, is wielding more than just ground breaking research with her team. She is giving us a glimpse of how beauty, science, and space come together in a tangible way.

Karen Nyberg is experimenting to find out how to protect astronauts’ health in space, as NASA has found over the years how astronauts have suffered bone and eye disentigration from extended space flights. Dr. Karen Nyberg’s expedition in space is a unique one because she has displayed a combination of tough astuteness, ability to capture space photos making everyone gape, and sew a toy dinosaur for her 3-year old son out of space materials – all while making her home 250 miles above Earth.

Karen Nyberg skyrocketed aboard the ISS in May and will be there until November. During Karen Nyberg’s past trip to space in 2008, she ranked the 50th woman who had made it this far. She achieved this award for her work promoting how STEM jobs like engineering can strengthen women’s position in society.

Dr. Karen Nyberg achieved her first trip on STS-124 in 2008 flying to the ISS in transit by Soyuz 35 on May 28, 2013. Previously she worked at NASA Johnson Space Center for three years, accumulating a patent for her achievements on the Robot Friendly Probe and Socket Assembly. Her degrees concentrate heavily in mechanical engineering.

Karen Nyberg has explained how the space mission is not just a one-faceted science lab, but is a multi-colored prism. It can bring an understanding to human physical sciences, health, and hardware issues related to the interlocking of the mechanics which, if built properly for the space mission, can reduce the need for repairs. They had to build systems to support their work, and figure out the intricacies of the hardware and equipment.

A primary difference of doing research in space is the zero gravity laboratory, said Karen Nyberg, which gives NASA more ability to wield processes that would otherwise not be possible, and this amazing floating atmosphere presents a whole new sphere for ground breaking research.

Karen Nyberg said in one instance they had to build a closed system in which they could recycle liquids because in space it is not practical to keep reloading fresh water. She said that this sort of system could benefit Earth operations in terms of finding out how to better understand robotic water operations.

Karen Nyberg reflected on her traveling expedition in the 2008 space mission in the STS-124, an American space shuttle, during which she helped to ship a Japanese laboratory, and employ a Canadian robotic arm to install it to a unit from Italy. They performed these tasks while traveling 17,000 miles an hour.  These pieces have never connected on Earth, and Karen Nyberg pointed out that these kinds of multi-level global engineering tasks can be applied to open up new techniques for organizations and multi-site collaborations on Earth.

Recently NASA has decided to send a crew up there for a full year in 2015, the longest mission ever for the United States. Karen Nyberg agreed that this longer type of mission would be expected because of efforts to travel further  away.  However, Karen Nyberg  emphasized the concern for crew health.

“We know now that quite a few astronauts are coming home with decay in their eyesight, and it’s not known exactly at this time what causes this, but it’s an important thing, especially if we’re going to be spending longer and longer times, and we have ask if it will it get worse as the time goes on?”

She explained how all the astronauts are undergoing plenty of eye tests during and before the mission to get images of the retina, and taking pressure counts. But all of these tests are breaking new ground and Karen Nyberg hopes they can open up doors to new findings on Earth.

Bone density is the other priority in her research, and Karen Nyberg explained, “With the lack of gravity, our bodies are smart and there is no reason for our bones to be here because we do not have to be held up against gravity, and they start to degrade and they degrade very quickly and in fact even faster than a 70-year-old woman with osteoporosis, probably about ten times as fast. So we have a great opportunity to look at the decay of the bones and figure out what type of processes we need to mitigate these decays, and there’s great potential for using that and applying it to earthbound osteoporosis.”

Altogether Karen explained that they have a 150 studies going on with some 400 researchers all over the world, collaborating with the ISS research endeavors.

Karen Nyberg admitted how much she longs to be with her family more while in space but how she is excited to be fulfilling a lifelong dream of breaking ground in science on the ISS, contributing to discoveries to bring back to Earth.

Written by Danelle Cheney

CBS

NASA

NASA Women

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