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Otter Tail County native, UND grad blasts off for International Space Station

GRAND FORKS - NASA astronaut and Otter Tail County native Karen Nyberg embarked on her second journey into space Tuesday, blasting off to a six-month stay on the International Space Station.

She launched along with other members of the Expedition 36 team from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the seven-hour trip to the space station, more than 200 miles above the Earth.

In her hometown of Vining, Minn., about 30 miles east of Fergus Falls, Nyberg’s parents were watching the launch.

In nearby Henning, where Nyberg went to school, community members and students gathered at the elementary school for a launch party. Before takeoff, her sister carried a cardboard cutout of the astronaut from classroom to classroom, where students posed for photos.

“It makes me so proud. I’m so proud,” said her sister, Patti Nyberg West, before the launch.

“But I’m nervous and anxious and all that, too.”

Throughout the 3:31 p.m. takeoff, Nyberg West remained nervous.

“Once she was in no-gravity, I was OK,” she said.

At the launch party in Henning, Vining Mayor Jim Wallevand said Nyberg’s career as an astronaut is an example for others who come from rural areas. Vining has a population of fewer than 100 people.

“It just goes to show, no matter how small a town a person comes from, and I mean small, and graduates from a small but good school like Henning, you can go out and become anything or anybody you want to,” Wallevand said.

NASA TV provided live streaming coverage of the crew as they prepared to board the space station on the space agency’s website,

While in space, Nyberg, a graduate of the University of North Dakota, may deliver the keynote address at UND’s summer commencement ceremony Aug. 2, according to Tim O’Keefe, head of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

O’Keefe traveled with “Team Nyberg” overseas to witness the expedition’s launch and document the group’s experience in his AreaVoices blog.

“I can feel the tension and emotion rising as today moves forward, for me and everyone here,” O’Keefe wrote.

Continuing a tradition started by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, Nyberg and her two co-pilots planted saplings along the Avenue of Cosmonauts on Tuesday before their launch.

“Sun, birds, smell of grass & fresh air; nice walk w/ family along ‘Ave of Cosmonauts’ #simplejoysonearth,” Nyberg tweeted.

After takeoff, the crew of Expedition 36 will not smell grass or fresh air for six months.

Nyberg will at least have some of the comfort of Earth. She told in a recent interview that she was bringing supplies aboard the station to do some quilting.

O’Keefe wrote of Nyberg’s anticipation of the launch.

“After spending time with her two days ago and talking to the astronauts here about the level of training and repetition they experience, it’s very apparent she is ready to go,” he wrote.

Before putting away her cellphone, Nyberg composed a final tweet from the ground.

“Time for me to ‘unplug!’ Thanks everyone for well wishes & great interest in what our nations do in space. Will be talking to you from LEO! (Low Earth Orbit),” she tweeted.


• O’Keefe’s blog is at

• Follow Karen Nyberg on Twitter at

• NASA’s page about Expedition 36 is at

Kevin Wallevand, Forum News Service

Reporter Will Beaton contributed to this story.

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