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11 NASA astronauts have ties to Dakotas and Minnesota. Here's who they are

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FARGO — Eleven NASA astronauts from across the Dakotas and Minnesota have ventured to where few have gone, but many have admired from afar.

None of them have walked on the moon, but in light of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, take a look at these admirable stars with ties to the area.

Karen Nyberg

Karen Nyberg
Karen Nyberg


The 50th woman to launch into space, Karen Nyberg, grew up in the land of 10,000 lakes and attended college at the University of North Dakota.

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Nyberg, 49, was born and raised in Vining, Minn., where she recently visited over the Fourth of July. She graduated from Henning High School in 1988 and went to UND where in 1994, she earned a mechanical engineering degree, Summa Cum Laude.

Her first spaceflight mission was in May 2008, and she spent six months on the International Space System in 2013. Over the course of two missions she accumulated 180 days in space.

Nyberg is married to NASA astronaut Col. Doug Hurley, who will be part of the first manned SpaceX mission.

James Buchli

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Astronaut and North Dakota native James Buchli. Special to The Forum

This North Dakota native was the first from the state to launch into space. James Buchli, born in New Rockford and raised in Fargo, graduated in 1963 from Fargo Central High School where he was also a state champion wrestler.

Buchli, 74, fought in the Vietnam War before joining NASA in 1979. His first spaceflight in 1985 involved eavesdropping on the Soviet Union via spy satellite.

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He blasted off on three other missions for a total time in space of 20 days, 10 hours and 24 minutes. In 2018, Buchli was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame — a prestigious honor only granted to 100 other astronauts.

Tony England

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Tony England

On Tuesday, July 16, the West Fargo Public Library will welcome the hometown hero Tony England via Skype for a live chat with children curious about his NASA space exploration.

England's first and only spaceflight followed Buchli by six months in the summer of 1985. He was aboard the Challenger for nearly eight days.

Most notable in his NASA career was the work he did on Earth with the aborted Apollo 13 mission that nearly ended in tragedy. During the failed lunar landing mission in April 1970, the words "Houston, we have a problem," were sent to England and others at mission control, prompting the team's successful rescue efforts.

England, 77, is a 1959 graduate of West Fargo High School.

Rick Hieb

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Richard Hieb

Born and raised in Jamestown, Rick Hieb graduated from his hometown's high school in 1973 before embarking on aerospace studies.

Hieb, 63, is a veteran of three spaceflights, the first being in 1991 that involved 134 orbits of the Earth covering 3.5 million miles and lasting nearly 200 hours.

On his second mission he logged 141 orbits during the 213 hours in space while traveling 3.7 million miles. His third and final mission was nearly double the distance with 6.1 million miles during the 15-day flight and 236 orbits.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper

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Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper

This St. Paul native made history as the first woman from the state to go into space in 2006 — a couple years before Nyberg followed suit in her own spacesuit.

When Stefanyshyn-Piper blasted off aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, she was only the eighth woman to spacewalk. Her second and final mission was in 2008, and she was the lead spacewalker for the crew. During one spacewalk, she accidentally lost a tool bag that was in orbit for months before burning up on its return to Earth.

Stefanyshyn-Piper, 56, is a captain in the U.S. Navy.

Duane Carey

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Duane Carey

Another astronaut born and raised in St. Paul, Duane Carey, nicknamed "Digger," completed one space mission in 2002. Carey, 62, served as the pilot during the 10-day mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

As a member of the U.S. Air Force, he logged 4,300 hours in various aircrafts. He is a lieutenant colonel.

Robert Cabana

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Robert Cabana

A four-time spaceflight veteran, Robert Cabana first went into orbit in 1990. Cabana grew up in Minneapolis where he graduated from Washburn High School in 1967 before joining the Navy where he reached ranks of colonel.

The 70-year-old is currently the director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Dale Gardner

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Dale Gardner

Dale Gardner was born in Fairmont, Minn., and grew up in Sherburn, though he considered Clinton, Iowa his hometown. His experience with NASA started in 1978 and his first space mission was in 1983. The following year he made his second and final mission.

Gardner served in the Navy as a captain after an eight-year NASA career logging a total of 14 days in space.

The latter part of his life was spent in Colorado where he continued work with space by surveilling all man-made object in Earth's orbit with the Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. He worked for the aerospace company TRW Inc., and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Gardner died from a stroke at the age of 65 in 2014.

Michael Fossum

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Michael Fossum

Though most of his life was spent in Texas when he wasn't in outer space, Michael Fossum was born in Sioux Falls, S.D.

He logged more than 194 days in space during his four missions, with the first blastoff in 2006. Fossum's following space flights were in 2008 and 2011.

Fossum, 61, was an officer in the Air Force and currently serves as chief operating officer and vice president of the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University. He joined A&M after a 19-year NASA career.

Charles Gemar

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Charles Gemar

Charles "Sam" Gemar was the first astronaut from South Dakota. He was born in Yankton and graduated from Scotland Public High School in 1973 before enrolling in the U.S. Military Academy.

Gemar, 63, made three space flights for NASA in the early 1990s and spent a total of 24 days in orbit. He is a lieutenant colonel in the Army.

George Nelson

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George Nelson

George "Pinky" Nelson was part of three space flights with NASA in the 1980s. He was born in Iowa but considers Willmar, Minn., his hometown and graduated from Willmar Senior High School in 1968.

Nelson, 68, was a scientific equipment operator and went to space aboard the Challenger, Columbia and Discovery, spending a total of 17 days in space. His time aboard the Discovery in 1988 was as part of the first mission flown after the Challenger accident.

Related Topics: SCIENCE AND NATURE
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