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UND alumna heads for space station

GRAND FORKS -- NASA astronaut and University of North Dakota alumna Karen Nyberg embarked on her second journey into space Tuesday to the International Space Station.

She launched along with other members of the Expedition 36 team from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the seven-hour trip to the space station, more than 200 miles above the Earth.

NASA TV provided live streaming coverage of the crew as they prepared to board the space station on the space agency's website,

While in space, Nyberg may deliver the keynote address at UND's summer commencement ceremony Aug. 2, according to Tim O'Keefe, head of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

O'Keefe traveled with "Team Nyberg" overseas to witness the expedition's launch and document the group's experience in his Area Voices blog.

"I can feel the tension and emotion rising as today moves forward, for me and everyone here," O'Keefe wrote.

In her hometown of Vining, Minn., Nyberg's parents were watching the launch.

In nearby Henning, where Nyberg went to school, community members and students gathered at the elementary school for a launch party. Before takeoff, her sister carried a cardboard cutout of the astronaut from classroom to classroom, where students posed for photos.

Continuing a tradition started by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, Nyberg and her two co-pilots planted saplings along the Avenue of Cosmonauts on Tuesday before their launch.

"Sun, birds, smell of grass & fresh air; nice walk w/ family along 'Ave of Cosmonauts' #simplejoysonearth," Nyberg tweeted.

After takeoff, the crew of Expedition 36 will not smell grass or fresh air for six months.

O'Keefe wrote of Nyberg's anticipation of the launch.

"After spending time with her two days ago and talking to the astronauts here about the level of training and repetition they experience, it's very apparent she is ready to go," he wrote.

Before putting away her cellphone, Nyberg composed a final tweet from the ground.

"Time for me to 'unplug!' Thanks everyone for well wishes & great interest in what our nations do in space. Will be talking to you from LEO! (Low Earth Orbit)," she tweeted.

Reporter Kevin Wallevand contributed to this story.