A NASA astronaut from Minnesota, currently orbiting 250 miles above Earth in the International Space Station, fielded questions Wednesday from students who attend her former school during a freewheeling session that touched on everything from what she eats to what it's like to float without gravity.
"How old were you when you decided to be an astronaut?" a third-grade girl asked Karen Nyberg during her exchange with students at the K-12 Henning School in Vining, in west-central Minnesota.
"I was about your age when I decided," said Nyberg, bobbing about in her sky-blue NASA jumpsuit and speaking into a handheld microphone. "I was probably going to school and sitting in the same classrooms that you are now."
A second-grade boy wondered whether being in zero gravity felt like being in water.
"That's a very keen observation," Nyberg said, noting that her preparation for space travel included underwater training.
Asked what she likes best about being in space, Nyberg responded: "I like zipping around. You get going around pretty fast … going around corners. … and floating all over the place. It's a lot, a lot of fun."
As for her menu in space, Nyberg said the options are much like what is available on Earth. She held up a freeze-dried pouch that "happens to be one of my favorites, red beans and rice. I like it because it's spicy."
Nyberg, who arrived at the station in May for a six-month mission and celebrated her 44th birthday on Oct. 7, is a straight-A graduate of Henning, enrollment roughly 400. Her 20-minute hookup with the schoolchildren was carried live on NASA TV and on the agency's website.
In preparation for the conversation, the Henning students have been following Nyberg's second space mission and NASA's activities have been incorporated into their studies.
She is the second Minnesota woman in space. The state's other female astronaut is St. Paul's Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper.
Nyberg is a graduate of the University of North Dakota, and has her master's and doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin.