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Now retired, a Minnesota astronaut prepares to watch her husband's historic space launch

Astronauts Doug Hurley (right) and Bob Behnken (left)
Astronauts Doug Hurley (right) and Bob Behnken (left) are preparing for the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch in late May. Hurley is married to Otter Tail County's Karen Nyberg, who retired from NASA at the end of March 2020 ago after years as an astronaut and three missions to the International Space Station. Special to InForum

An astronaut from Otter Tail County is watching this month's historic space launch from a new perspective — that of a retired astronaut.

University of North Dakota graduate and Vining, Minn., native Karen Nyberg will soon watch her husband take a landmark space flight to the International Space Station.

The May 27 launch of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be the first flight to the ISS launched from United States soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

It will be Doug Hurley's third flight to the station, and Nyberg, who announced her retirement from NASA at the end of March, will be watching from Earth.


The upcoming launch is the result of a partnership between NASA and private firm SpaceX. Since the American space shuttle program ended, astronauts have relied on Russian-launched Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station.

Hurley, who is in final preparations for the launch, explained the long-term implications in an interview with WDAY News.

"We are building on this private-public partnership on this grand scale of going back to the moon and ultimately Mars," Hurley said. "It is an extremely exciting time to be in the space business and NASA."

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Special to InForum

But technology and partnerships aren't the only things that have changed for the astronaut couple over the past decade.

Since Nyberg's missions in space, she and her husband have found their hands full with their son, Jack, who is now old enough now to draw pictures of what his parents do.

"When he (Hurley) flew on the shuttle the first time, we had just gotten married. ... It adds a new element when you have a child, for sure," Nyberg said. "Now that (Jack) is 10, he can really appreciate it."


When Hurley heads to the ISS at the end of May, his suit will have an additional touch from family. The couple's nephew, Andrew, who lives in Minnesota, designed the patch for mission flight-suits and merchandise.

NASA selected this mission patch designed by Karen Nyberg's nephew. Special to InForum

When they are not in space, both Nyberg and Hurley visit Otter Tail County often to see family near Vining, about 25 miles east of Fergus Falls. Half the town showed up in Florida for Nyberg's first launch in 2008, when she went to the International Space Station on the space shuttle.

This time around, family and friends will watch from afar as the Falcon 9 rocket helps lift the Crew Dragon into orbit, beginning another chapter in American space exploration.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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