Selected libraries that are part of the Viking Library System have recently been giving its members a unique perspective – views from space.

The views come from photographs taken by astronaut Karen Nyberg, and are currently on display at the Douglas County Library. The exhibit, “Earth Views from Orbit: Photos by Karen Nyberg,” has been making the rounds and has splashed down in Alexandria, where it will be showing when the meeting room is unoccupied during library hours through April 28.

The man behind the exhibit, Dan Broten, was scheduled to visit the Alexandria library to hold a curator talk on March 25, but that has been called off. On Tuesday, the Douglas County Board announced the library would be closed to the public from Friday, March 20, to April 1, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The views are beautiful. It’s like we’re seeing it right through her eyes,” said Douglas County Library Director Dawn Dailey. “And the colors are amazing.”

Kristie Stratton of Alexandria examines the photos on display at the Douglas County Library through April. The pictures were taken by astronaut Karen Nyberg during her nearly six-month mission in 2013. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)
Kristie Stratton of Alexandria examines the photos on display at the Douglas County Library through April. The pictures were taken by astronaut Karen Nyberg during her nearly six-month mission in 2013. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)

In rarified air

Nyberg was raised in Vining, a city in Otter Tail County, approximately 30 miles north of Alexandria, with a population under 100. The daughter of Kenneth and Phyllis Nyberg, she graduated from Henning High School in 1988.

The 50-year-old Nyberg is one of only a half-dozen NASA astronauts from Minnesota, and was the 50th woman to launch into space.

Karen Nyberg
Karen Nyberg

She has made two space flights. Her first was in 2008, when she was part of the 26th shuttle flight to the International Space Station. The crew made 218 orbits in Discovery, traveling 5.7 million miles in just under 14 days.

That was mere preparation for her mission in 2013, where she was one of three members of an international crew on a Russian Soyuz mission to the space station. The other members were a Russian cosmonaut and an Italian astronaut.

This photo, titled, "Window to the World," is of astronaut Karen Nyberg during her second trip to the International Space Station. Nyberg hails from Vining. (Contributed)
This photo, titled, "Window to the World," is of astronaut Karen Nyberg during her second trip to the International Space Station. Nyberg hails from Vining. (Contributed)

As a flight engineer on ISS Expedition 36 and Expedition 37, Nyberg was in orbit in the space station for 166 days from May through November, racking up more than 70 million miles before making a parachute-assisted landing in the Kazakhstan desert.

She remains active in NASA, and lives in Houston. She is married to astronaut Doug Hurley, who has also made two trips into space and was one of the first astronauts tabbed for U.S. commercial space flights. In May at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Hurley is set to be the commander for the first crewed orbital spaceflight to be launched from the U.S. since 2011, one that he was also aboard.

Bringing photos to life

It was that 2013 mission that produced the 24 large-scale photographs that Nyberg took from the space station that are hanging in the Douglas County Library. During that mission, she took many photos of Earth, flying 250 miles above the Earth’s surface at a speed of 17,500 mph.

Broten, who is director of the city of Henning’s Landmark Center, worked with Nyberg to whittle her pictures down to the two dozen that are mounted on canvas and displayed in the traveling exhibit.

The photos they chose include landmarks from around the world, including the Grand Canyon. There are pictures of cloud formations and one that was taken over west-central Minnesota where many Douglas County lakes are identifiable. There are even a couple of Nyberg herself.

Astronaut Karen Nyberg snapped this photo on July 17, 2013, while soaring over west-central Minnesota. Among the lakes that are visible are Miltona, Ida, the Alexandria chain of lakes, Osakis, Reno and Minnewaska. (Contributed)
Astronaut Karen Nyberg snapped this photo on July 17, 2013, while soaring over west-central Minnesota. Among the lakes that are visible are Miltona, Ida, the Alexandria chain of lakes, Osakis, Reno and Minnewaska. (Contributed)

The exhibit was unveiled at a reception for Nyberg in Henning in the spring of 2014. She also spoke with students. It has since traveled around the region, and it came to the Evansville Art Center in 2016.

Broten became a family friend and through that connection has been fortunate to chronicle her career exploits with his camera. He has photographed both of her launches, the 2008 takeoff from Florida and the 2013 launch from Kazakhstan.

The exhibit is on loan from the Landmark Center. Both it and Broten’s presentation are funded by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage fund.

To follow along with the space station and see when it will pass overhead, go to spotthestation.nasa.gov.

(Note: This story has been updated to reflect the cancellation of the curator talk and the closing of the library to the public on March 20.)