Karen Nyberg

Parenting speaks with Astronaut Karen Nyberg.

-Good morning. Hello. Karen, thank you so much for, you know, taking the time to speak with me this morning. -Absolutely. Good morning. -So, if you don't mind, I'm just gonna jump right into it. I think the #1 thing our readers at Parenting would like to know is, what is it like to be in space? -It is-- it is absolutely incredible. I was there in 2008 on a shuttle flight. The unfortunate part of that, it was a very short mission, only 14 days. And I remember the first time we opened the payload bay door of the space shuttle and I was able to look out the back windows of the flight deck. It's pretty much indescribable how beautiful it is and the feeling of floating, you know, like a superhero, is amazing. And I'm so excited to do it again. -Wow. So, your son is very young. How do you feel like becoming a mom has changed the way you now approach your job? -That's a good question. I think I've always been somebody who has tried to work very, very hard to excel at absolutely everything I do and I never accepted good enough. And since I've become a mother, I've realized there are some things I have-- in order to balance my life with my family and my job, I need to accept good enough on some things. And that's okay. And I think I've learned to do that and, you know, I'll work to the level-- I still try to excel in most things I do. But like I said, there a couple of things I just-- you have to say-- in order to be able to spend the time at home with my husband and my son, I need to accept good enough on a few things. -Great. So, have you told Jack where you're going? Is he upset? What's the longest you've been away from him? And does he understand where you're going? -The longest I've been away from him at this point is about 5 weeks and he's 3 years old, so it's really hard to tell exactly what he understands, but we do tell him that mommy is going to live on the space station. And when he sees a picture of the space station, he knows what it is. He knows what a rocket is. He knows that the space station travels around the earth. He knows that in the space station there's no gravity and things float, you know, and that's the level of a 3-year-old. It's really hard to tell if they understand it at a deeper level than that. But I'm looking forward to being there and sending them videos for him and showing him just simple things like when I'm eating and when I'm-- when I'm just playing around and just sharing that with him. -What does a normal day look like for you right now that you're training for upcoming mission and being a mom to your son? -Well, I'm in Star City, Russia right now. I've been here for a couple of weeks and we're in the final preparations. And actually, we're pretty much done. We had final examinations, which are simulations it the Russian segment to the space station and in the Soyuz which is the rocket that is taking us up to the space station. And it's pretty intense, but I did bring my son here with me and I was able to at least spend time with him on the weekends and the evenings and-- But now, we had our final ceremonial events at Red Square yesterday after we passed all of our exams and I have some free time that I can spend with my husband and my son. So, it's going to be very nice and the weather's great here in Star City, so I'm looking forward to a few days of relaxation. -That sounds lovely. Do you feel it's difficult to manage training and being a mom? How do you do it? Do you have any tips for other working moms? -I think-- I think this is almost like when you bring the brand new baby home. Nobody really gives you instructions. We go through all these training and learning from everything from driving a car to the training we go to in college. And then when it comes to being a parent, you kind of learn by doing and so I think that's what we're doing right now. One of the main things that I tried to do now is not make it a negative that I'm leaving. Never insinuate that there's anything negative about what's going on and keeping him apart of the life of that we're leading and just it's a normal thing. -I see. So, how did your own mother encourage you in STEM? And this question is in honor of Mother's Day. And do you have any advice for other parents who have daughters interested in STEM? -My mother was awesome in that she let me do anything I wanted. I grew up in a very small town in Minnesota. My mother was unable to go to college. And so to her, she just wanted me to be able to do anything I wanted. She taught me when I was really little to sow and to do a lot of the stuff that I need to do at home and she always encouraged me never-- any time I wanted to sport or do anything academic, it was always encouraged. And so, I think-- I think for parents of other little girls just let them dream and let them-- their imagination roll and do whatever it is that they want to do. -Oh. Do you have any plans for Mother's Day while you're in Russia and training? -My plan for Mother Day-- Mother's Day is just to relax with my family. -Do you feel like the distance from your loved ones and family feels more tangible when you're in space and when you're away somewhere on earth? -That's hard to say. I know when I'm on earth and away I can have a video conference with my son and husband every single day. When I'm in space, I can call them on-- we have an internet protocol phone that I can call everyday. However, video conferences will only be once a week and I think that's going to be a little unusual. But I hope to videotape, like I said, some of the things that I'm doing and send it down as frequently as possible so that they can see what I'm doing on a daily basis. -What about the other way around? Your son is probably still setting a lot of milestone. Do you have any agreements with your husband for him to chapter some of Jack's firsts or big moments while you're in space? -I think-- I think there will be a lot of pictures taken and a lot of video taken. My son will actually be starting preschool in September, so I will miss his first day of school, which-- -Oh. -of course makes me sad, but there will be a lot of pictures and my husband's gonna do a great job of getting him out the door to his first day of school. -Do you hope that he'll follow in your footsteps? Is he displaying an aptitude for science? -He actually is displaying an aptitude for science. He loves-- He loves to understand things. He loves to look things up. We'll go to Google and he'll say he wants to look up an animal. And he'll tell me-- We'll probably, in a 15-minute period of time, look up about 20 different animals. He loves the planets. He loves to talk about the planets. He loves dinosaurs. He loves looking on his cars and trucks. He'll look down at the wheels and say we need to fix this or we need to-- So, I think he definitely has an aptitude and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends in some type of technical field when he's an adult. -Okay. And aside from your son obviously and your family, what future comforts are you gonna miss the most when you're away from earth? -My bed, I think, is an important one, although-- You know, I was only in space for 2 weeks on my shuttle flights, so I'm not sure I ever became very, very comfortable at sleeping in-- without gravity, but from what I've heard from other people, it becomes extremely comfortable so maybe in a couple of months that won't seem so important to me. Another thing is coffee in a cup. We drink our coffee in bags and my morning coffee in a cup, I think, I will probably miss. -Right. What is, do you think, the biggest misconception regular people have about astronauts? -Oh gosh. I think we are just normal people. You know, it's so hard when there's somebody that you see and you only see a small portion of them and all of us have very, very normal lives with normal families and we just happen to be in a job that is an extraordinary job. And, you know, we're so lucky to be able to do it, but we are just ordinary people. -And now, what do you think is your biggest struggle as a parent? -You always if you're doing the right things for your children, I think. And, you know, I have struggled with is it a good thing for me to leave my 3-year-old for 6 months. And, you know, after going through it in my head for a long time, this is a dream I had since I was a young child myself and I don't think I would be setting a very good example for my son if I gave up on my dreams. So, I think that's one of the biggest things and it's gonna be really hard to say goodbye to him next week. -I see. Well, thank you so much, Karen. It was lovely to talk to you. -Thank you very much. You too. -Buh-bye.