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A line forms to chat and pose for pictures with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg Monday at Henning School. Nyberg, a Vining native, returned home nearly sixth months after returning from her second mission to space.

Henning's hometown hero

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For six months last year, Karen Nyberg circled the globe every 90 minutes, traveling about 75 million miles during her trip to the International Space Station.

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The Vining native and former Henning Hornet traveled home Monday, sharing her experiences with former neighbors, old friends, proud teachers and hundreds of adoring children.

"I dare all of you kids to go out and do great things," Nyberg said during her presentation in the Henning School gym. "I dare you."

Henning's most famous alumna is proof that if you work hard you can achieve your dreams, Henning School Principal Thomas Williams told students before two former classmates introduced Nyberg to the crowd.

"It's great to be back in Minnesota," said Nyberg, a two-time space traveler. She also visited Henning after her first trip, during which she spent two weeks aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Nyberg launched into a presentation about her latest mission to the International Station, narrating a video that showed each step of her mission from the launch last May (Henning students watched from the gym) in a Russian rocket to her return to earth in November.

Science is the main reason to go to space, Nyberg said. "Without the effect of gravity, you can really do a lot."

Much of the research has practical uses on earth, Nyberg said, such as helping develop a more concentrated laundry detergent. Other studies are aimed at figuring out how to safely send astronauts beyond low orbit - about 200 miles above the earth.

Nyberg urged students to use their imaginations to help devise more advanced life support systems.

The view of earth from space "is the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen," Nyberg said.

Although she captured many spectacular images - some of which are on display through the summer at Henning's Landmark Center, where Nyberg held an event later Monday - she said nothing rivals the view of the naked eye.

After she spoke, Nyberg took questions from students of all ages.

One girl asked her if she has any regrets about spending so much time in space.

Nyberg said the thing she missed most was her young son Jack, who joined her this week in Minnesota. But going to space has been her life's dream, so "I don't feel any regret at all, I'm very glad that I did it," she said.

Another student asked if Nyberg had made any friends on the space station (she did), while another wondered what happens if people get sick in space.

NASA quarantines astronauts before launch to prevent that and they are trained to deal with a variety of medical issues, Nyberg responded. If it was a life-threatening issue, the Soyuz capsule could return to earth within hours.

The event concluded with Gail Guse, Nyberg's kindergarten teacher, presenting the astronaut a binder filled with writings and drawings from Henning students.

Nyberg, in turn, gave the school a special gift: A stuffed hornet that traveled with her to space.

Guse read a poem she wrote for Nyberg.

The last verse reads: "Your parents taught you to go for the prize, keep your feet on the ground but your eyes on the skies/You've been an inspiration to so many here, your accomplishments many, your message is clear/Believe in yourself and you can go far. Work hard, set a goal, and you'll land with the stars."

For Henning students, Nyberg's message was indeed clear.

"(She) truly shows if you set your mind to something, anything is possible," said Henning senior Alyssa Houselog.

Eighth-grader Zac Araca said Nyberg's a terrific role model. "Kids all over the world from small schools can do something just like her."

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