Nicole Stott – Expressing space through emotions

NASA astronaut and artist Nicole Stott brings back to us her space memories and emotions with a special form of expression, whereby art and science goes hand in hand.

American space engineer and retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott spent over 103 days living and working in space during her two space missions. Spending 27 years at NASA she become a pioneering astronaut in many levels.

Nicole participated in the first NASA Live Tweetup from space. She also brought along with her a small water-colour kit to the International Space Station where she painted “The Wave”, based on a picture she took through the window of the Russian Service Module of Isla Los Roques, Venezuela. Not to mention that she holds the Women’s World Record for saturation diving.

Seeing the Earth from space, Nicole had an epiphany and she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to sharing that experience with others, living her current adventure as a full-time Artist, motivational speaker, and advocate for SciArt education.

Nicole and Dodo Newman connected, it was Dodo’s true privilege to create this special interview with this fascinating astronaut and artist.

Nicole: It all sounds very interesting what you is aiming at. From some of your previous questions it looks like you have read about me, about what I have done lately.

Dodo: Yes, I tried to put together my questions from the point that interest you as well and also because I was personally very fascinated by your story. My life also relates to the artistic world and what really interests me is the energy that is out in our universe and that is here as well. Both in a spiritual way and also because of the beauty of the universe. Since my aim is to pull together different people in a community from the human perspective, human stories this is a perfect interview possibility for me.

Nicole: It certainly stands from the humanity side for sure. This tie between science and art, and for me in this next transition from space to art and sharing the experiences I was blessed to have, I think there is just this connectivity between the two that you cannot ignore. We have been using art all along to communicate the data that we get scientifically and to present it beyond the data to pictures and other artistic media. I think our human brain is wired to understand something that is presented pretty creatively and artistically a little bit better than a page full of numbers or straight data. I think that is just part of what makes us human beings is that unlike a computer, which just needs the ones and zeros and it really solves those problems, we are not like that. We need to take in more of what’s around us than just the “data” for us to really and truly understand what we are experiencing.

Dodo: Yeah, it is fascinating that you have an inclination to both science and art and you are right, at one point it is one. Mathematics is also beautiful at one point.

Nicole: I mean think about the things that it represents for us. I really believe and I have a list actually that I kept over time of people I have encountered in what is supposedly just a very technical scientific kind of working environment. Honestly, for the most part everyone I think has some bit of both the science and art going on inside them, and I really enjoyed finding people who have a lot of both going on. These people are scientists or engineers or astronauts and if you did not know them outside of that experience with them, you would not realise that they are some of the best musicians you have ever met or the best painters or quilters or poets out there as well. Because they just try to keep that on the side and it does not come out every day in their day to day work. I think that the influence that the two have on each other is really huge in these people’s lives. I think it makes the engineers that are artistic better engineers because of it. They can think a bit more creatively with the problems that they are solving.

Nicole Stott
“One of my favorite photo as it reminds me that I really did have the chance to look out those windows.” – Nicole Stott, the photo was taken by Steve Bowen on STS133 mission to International Space Station . via Nicole Stott

Dodo: Talking about creativity what I found really fascinating is that many astronauts come back to Earth from their space mission and they write a book. One thing is that they spread their thoughts and experiences in a broader level and that is also incredible how it transforms a person.

Nicole: Yes, and I think all of us want to do that. I certainly have my little outline, actually a few and different kinds of stories. But for me to create the artwork side of it was a little bit more important. Especially to do the paintings and to start getting these experiences and what I saw or the spacecraft that I flew on, to get that out there first, perhaps in a different way to communicate that same experience that everybody else is initially doing through a book. I think the books are definitely there, maybe I will do them in the perfect timing and I hope it will still be appealing and interesting, maybe even more with the artwork out there as well to support the story too.

Dodo: I am sure you have a book inside you that will come out eventually.

Nicole: It is hard not to feel “obligated” to share the experience that we had, whether through a book or other way. I love the people who have figured out how to share the experience differently. Even though everyone who has written a book has a little bit of different twist on it, I find it very interesting to read the books of my astronaut friends and to see how they all express some very similar and also some very different interpretations of the experience — and I think that’s what art is all about too – sharing our perspectives.

Dodo: You are among the very few women who had been in space which I consider a very special thing. Do you think being an astronaut is more like a man job? Do you think the ratio between men and women will change in the future?

Nicole: You know I never thought of it as a man’s job. I think there are very few things that are either a man’s or a woman’s job. And really in all of my time working for NASA, actually from all my time going to school or studying engineering or flying or whatever it was, thankfully I have never thought about things that way. I think being an astronaut is a human’s job.

I think for sure that the ratios have gotten better over time and I think that will continue, just like we have seen in so many other places. I think it will just be a natural thing that happens because it will become very clear that there is really nothing about us as astronauts that is particular to be a man or a woman. There really is not. I loved my experience in space. I feel like I did a really good job out there and I enjoyed the time with my crew mates there. For the most part I never felt that anyone else is looking at it like a man or a woman’s job either.

I have to say that I think the only time that really this became a thought for me was if I was asked the question. Honestly there had been a lot of women before me who have made it possible for me to do what I did and experienced. Preparing for missions I remember the only time that I would think about of being the only woman among the crew was when someone asked me “So what’s it like being the only woman on your flight crew or to be the only mom?” or those kind of things. I felt it was really nice that that was not something always in front of my face, crossing my mind as getting prepared to go or being there doing it. And, the spaceship doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman.

Dodo: Yes for you it was natural, I assume otherwise you would not have been out. It was not an obstacle for you I think.

Nicole: Opportunities come to us in different ways. I feel really fortunate that I never had anybody to tell me that I could not do something. Which is good because I feel so bad for kids that I see that happening to. I think it is a gift letting people whether you are a boy or a girl to discover what you really love doing and what interests you and then allowing the opportunities to open up from that, versus somebody telling you that you should not even think about that because you are a girl or a boy or that it is impossible to do those kinds of things. I feel blessed every day that I got to be selected to be an astronaut and that I got to do what I did and to see and experience all the things that I did. It’s a mystery to me that something stood out about me over all the other super smart qualified people out there. So I am very thankful for that, and to the people that encouraged and supported me along the way.

NASA astronaut Nicole Stott participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit
NASA astronaut Nicole Stott participates in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit fit check. via WikiPedia

Dodo: It was a calling for you. You found your path and it found you. I think it was a perfect match, you were there in the right moment and you grabbed it.

Nicole: Right now it is interesting to me that how you said that where you are and how all that comes together and if you are fortunate like I was to do the things that I loved the most: I loved that. Everybody has some different paths to the same thing. In my astronaut class we have seventeen people and every single one of those people in the group came to that same place in such a different and interesting way. I think that is an important thing to share with people and kids in particular that there is not a cookie cutter recipe to anything in life. Whether it is to being an astronaut, a writer, a painter, a doctor there is never one path or checklist that gets you there. And it is better that way.

Dodo: It is a very important thought however a very few live it that way. Where does this passion for space come from? Do you remember the first time of your life when you wanted to go up to space?

Nicole: Probably it was a little bit indirect for me than it was for some of my friends who say it was from the time they watched the Moon landing. I believe that literarily there are people who from the time they saw that, that was their inspiration, that was the thing that helped them understand for themselves “wow, this is what I want to do”.

I watched the Moon landing and it was very inspirational, I have vivid memory of it with my family but I think for me it never crossed my mind that it was something that I can do. I did not see any reality to it for me in particular. I thought it was really-really cool, I remember saying “Oh my gosh, How do you get to the Moon?” at that point I was seven years old.

Thankfully I grew up in a family where we hung out at the airport a lot, my dad flew and built small airplanes. we were out there with him quite a bit and he shared that passion for flying with me. Getting exposed to it was I think the key to everything that happened for me later on. It certainly inspired me to want to learn how to fly myself. However when I started thinking what I wanted to do after college and studying I didn’t want to fly airplanes for a living but I wanted to do something with aviation. So I figured out was that what I enjoyed was figuring out why things fly, and that evolved to eventually to know how things fly in space. I just went on from there.

I was really lucky to get a job with NASA at Kennedy Space Center and I think it was there where I started seeing other astronauts, how they are doing their job and helping them get ready to fly into the space. I learned more about what they do in their 99.99% of their time when they are not training or flying in space. That still interested me and I started to talk with my mentors and a couple of people who knew me best and they encouraged me to apply. I think that’s where the kind of transition was for me, from not thinking there was any reality into it and really considering it to “wow I have done some interesting things along the way that might fit what NASA will look for in an astronaut”. “Wow if you want to fly an airplane, why would you not want to fly a spacecraft to space and do the important work that is going on out there”.

I think that was really more the clincher to it. The real determining side of it to me was that while the flying there would be fun, while the floating and being in space would be really awesome, there was the bigger picture of the work that is going along with it, what we are doing to improve life here on Earth and figuring out how to explore is hugely important. So why wouldn’t I want to do that? And so I am very thankful for all those people who encouraged me to pick up the pen and fill out the application because I do not think that I would have done it on my own without their encouragement.

Dodo: At Johnson Space Center (JSC) you served as Flight Simulation Engineer (FSE), just before NASA selected you to an actual space travel. How did this honour come into your life?

Nicole: There is the whole process that goes with it. I was working at Kennedy Space Centre when I applied for the first time and I very fortunately got an interview. I was not selected that first time around, quite honestly I didn’t think I would be. I didn’t get selected but I was fortunate to be offered a position as a Flight Simulation Engineer on the Shuttle Training aircraft at Johnson Space Center. They told me they can not bring me in as an astronaut that time but they would love me to work with them. I remember them telling me that they wanted me to get some more “operations” experience, which was funny for me because I had been working in shuttle operations for ten years.

However it became very clear to me what they meant when I first got to Johnson Space Center to start this job. It was about working in a complex vehicle as a crew, it was about those dynamics that happened. It is very different from getting a space shuttle ready to launch, but how you work as a team in an environment like that. I loved the job that I had there. I loved all the jobs I had along the way with NASA. You know to be helping get space shuttles ready to fly, to be out flying on these airplanes, helping train astronauts that were to fly in the space shuttle and to be in a community of people that love flying, I really was very happy.

I could have done that job for a long time but two years later they put out an announcement for a selection and I applied and got selected that time around. In hindsight now it became very clear to me why that job as a flight engineer was important for me to do before I moved on to be an astronaut and they were totally right. It was an experience that was very beneficial for me. It’s funny because when I started that job I took the position of Steve Swanson, who was selected in the 1998 class and then when I was selected a gentleman named Shane Kimbrough came and took my position there as a flight engineer. So it was one of these jobs where they purposely bring people in to be able to see whether this was the right thing for you, and if you could be successful in this job as a flight engineer then that helps them understand better how you might perform as an astronaut. And Shane is getting ready to fly now on his second space flight.

But that whole process was interesting to me. It was like a stepping stone and it was a great job.

Dodo: Before your space mission and as an experienced Flight Simulation Engineer you participated in the Aquarius undersea research habitat program as well. Does these programs truly prepare you to the experience you had in space?

Nicole: Absolutely. A lot of training goes on as you prepare to fly in space that is really good and most it focuses in some way around that same experience I had as a flight engineer: how do you work as a team, as a crew in a very different environment, in a stressful, complex environment. So a lot of training we do goes along with that but I think the ultimate experience that I had, that you look at as a wonderful analog to flying in space, the closest thing was that mission to Aquarius. And it was a mission. We had scientific research activities we were doing, we had exploration development research activities, we had the behavioural cognitive study stuff, studying the human physiological aspects of it that were part of it. The fact that you are at 60 feet (18,2 meter) under water and after an hour of being down there you don’t just swim to the surface safely to escape that, you have to put on special equipment to go out your door, you have to think about the status of your habitat, your crew members around you, your close environment, all of those things that you exactly experience in space.

I was on this Aquarius mission before I flew and I think I was fortunate to do that before flying. I did not know what it was to fly in space yet and hindsight it was a very helpful, appropriate training thing to do. I remember before leaving actually thinking “If I never get to fly in space this was such an incredible experience to see Earth that way, from underwater, to be able to go and live there and experience it as this place around you and to see the life outside of the habitat”. Just that perspective of where we live as just a really beautiful place, the same that the ocean is doing all that to keep us alive and all those kind of things come to mind, especially when you are at the point of thinking about leaving it, the last day of your mission. I remember thinking “Wow if I never get to fly in space, this was really awesome”. Another way to look at where we live. Although I am very thankful I got to fly in space afterwards too. It was the best training of what the overall experience would be in space.

Dodo: You spent 103 days in space and you also performed space walk. What was the most memorable moment for you in space?

Nicole: It almost seems as if it was just one moment. The entire experience was so special and memorable for sure. Although I have to say I am very thankful for the pictures and videos because it is possibly the most surreal thing that I know I was there, I know I spent that time in space, I know I did that spacewalk, I have these memories of time with my crew there, and looking out the window and all of that, it’s really difficult to just wrap my brain still around the fact that I did get to do it. So I am thankful for the pictures and videos. The memories are centered really around the experience as a crew, getting to share it with other people and certainly around the view out the window, and that’s whether you are looking at Earth or at the spacecraft that you are in or looking at a spacecraft that is approaching you or through the visor of your spacesuit.

NASA astronaut Nicole Stott participating in the first spacewalk of the STS-128 mission
NASA astronaut Nicole Stott participating in the first spacewalk of the STS-128 mission. via Nicole Stott

I have goosebumps thinking about it…so overwhelmingly impressive. When I first got there before flying I thought: it is just a few months and you will get used to it. You will look out the window and it will just be like oh yea there is Earth. It will become this usual, normal thing. And while it became normal when I looked out of the window to know I would see Earth, it was always impressive and special every time. There was always something different and surprising every time that you looked out the window and that’s a bit overwhelming. Because on top of that it is just so beautiful too. The description I have is just that it glows. These colours that glow, looks different every time and in the back of your mind at the same time, is that everybody you have ever known or will know lives down there. They are down there waiting for you.

During my spacewalk I felt probably the most disconnected from everybody that I ever had, just alone in this spacesuit but on the other hand I felt the most connected to everyone as well. I had this communication link to them, I had this visual connection looking through my visor at whether it was on Earth or my crew mate out there with me. I knew that the people at mission control and my crew mates were supporting me, my family and friends were down there watching me and supporting me and it was the same thing in terms of that sense of what we have together on Earth. There is a lot of very pragmatic, systematic and technical side of being there and getting that work done and doing it but in the back of your mind always you are thinking: “Wow I am in a very special place. This view I have is incredible. It’s going to get just better and better over time as we explore space further.” As humans this visual experience is really important.

And having the opportunity to do that floating in space. How liberated that feels to be in that environment. It’s just wonderful, the whole thing. Its all one big moment. It all just becomes this collection of  special experiences that are one moment.

Dodo: Do these feelings and visions ever come back to you in your dreams? Do you have sometimes glimpses?

Nicole: I think so. I think now having experienced physically that time in space, those experiences are part of what I dream. Before I used to dream of what it would be like, and now I have dreams about floating in space, or the work I was doing up there. I think a lot of times the thought of it comes up through watching my friends do that now and looking at them and thinking it looks so normal to move around that way, whereas before I would wonder what it would feel like. I don’t think it ever goes away, it’s back there all the time.

Dodo: You also made a sort of history with your crew mate Jeff Williams when you made the first NASA Tweetup. Not to mention that also made its connection with you through Twitter. Do you think technology brings together the average people with the mission of the space agencies and astronauts?

Nicole: That was back in the days of Twitter on the space station, where we didn’t have a live, real-time Internet connection yet. So both Jeff and I wanted to use Twitter to help communicate what we were doing. It was pretty difficult because, unlike now when you can take a picture in space and when you find the time you can send that down yourself or send it to the ground and they send it. You can do it more real time now. We had to tweet by thinking of something, e-mailing it that would only go down once or twice a day and then somebody would get it. So the act of tweeting was not all that real-time. But we thought at that time it was an important way to engage audiences that might not be thinking perhaps about what we were doing up in space.

And then somebody approached us about doing this Tweetup and I guess they had done these NASA socials and NASA Tweetup kinds of things at NASA centres and now they wanted to do it with us on the space station. And it was really fun, it was more like an interview kind of exchange and the people on the ground were tweeting what was being said and how we were responding to their questions. It was an interesting group of people, a lot of them were educators and for sure space fans and some folks who never really knew much before about what we do on the space station. The chance to engage with them in that way and to be the first Tweetup from space was interesting. My son loves it because there is something in the Book of World Records about it, which is funny to me.

Like the artwork, if we can use creative ways, social media or painting or writing to get more and more people interested in the wonderful things that are going on with our space programme, then I am all for it. I think we just need to look and to be always open to do that kind of thing.

Dodo: You also have a very colourful personality and the first astronaut of the Space Shuttle/Space Station era to choose art as your next step in life. How did this come, was art part of your life before or did expressing yourself through art come afterwards?

Nicole: I think I always had, as my mom would say, an artsy side. I was a ballerina growing up, so I liked to dance, I liked painting. I never really had any training in painting or artwork per se besides the usual stuff you get in school. I loved it, I loved photography too. Before flying to space I was more on the crafty side and I would try watercolour painting and I would do some drawing. But from the most part I would do it from more of a crafty kind of way. I made gifts for people and things like that.

When I flew the first time, I knew that I wanted to do something like that while I was in space so I decided to take up a small set of watercolour paints with me. Just coincidentally or maybe it was meant to be, one my good friends who worked in the space programme for years as one of our flight crew people, a wonderful artist also named Ron Woods, he asked me if I would fly a paintbrush for him to space. It is well-used wooden brush with tape on it and it was the brush that he used to paint his first paintings and that his artist mentor had given him. So a very special brush. I was able to take that and paint with it in space.

Dodo: You also created small watercolour artworks called “The Wave” during your ISS mission in 2009. Was it difficult to paint in space? How do the materials “behave” during the process?

Nicole: You have to be a bit more thoughtful about it, because everything floats and you don’t want to make a mess there. The paints that I brought were one of those hard watercolours ones, where you put the water on them and wet them enough to paint with. So you just have to be a little diligent about taking care that you are not making a mess. I was really pleased that it turned out to be a lot more straightforward to do than I thought it would and it was just about managing the amount of water you got on the brush to paint and being sure that you took that straight to the paper that you were to paint on.

"The Wave" by Nicole Stott
“The Wave”, the first painting on the Intenational Space Station during Expedition 21 / Oct 2009. via Nicole Stott

I wanted to paint something that I had seen out the window so I printed out on recycled paper that we had there and printed out this picture of a little chain of islands off the Northern coast of Venezuela called Las Roques. To me when I looked out at it through the window, the shape of the islands and the colour and everything, looked like a wave and I loved it. Of all the pictures I have taken after that it was the one I loved the most. I wanted to paint something that really represented something that I saw. Given the 0 gravity environment up there I do think that the way the material works and some of the different things that you could do, you could get creative with it doing some Jackson Pollock kind of stuff, maybe splatter techniques or letting the water into little spheres and then pulling the paper through it. I think there were other ways that you could use the paints and the environment that you are in to do something different as well. But my goal while I was there, like it is now with what I am doing with my artwork is to someway try to share what I saw and what I experienced. I’d be very happy though if they want to fly me in space again to try some of those artistic things out 😉

Maybe somewhere down the road I will get a little abstract. But right now I am trying to paint in a way that shares the beauty of what I saw and embellishes in a way that interests people and encourages them to want to know more about our Planet, as well as to know more about what we are doing on the space station and how it’s making life better here on Earth for us.

Dodo: How did your art and your artistic expression change after seeing the Earth from the outer space?

Nicole: Yes I think it did change. It went from being something that crafty thing. It changed in a number of ways. It changed in that I wanted the art to be art, I discovered while I was in space that not only did I want to share the experience that I had but I wanted to do it through art. I wanted to get better at it and I wanted to paint things that people would enjoy and be inspired by. I think that is a little different than art was for me before flying. I wanted people to enjoy what I was doing but I wanted them to enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it, through the connection of the Christmas card and the creative birthday present. With this I wanted to be bigger than that, I wanted to really be my expression of what I was blessed to experience in space and share it that way with people. And hopefully it will do it.

In the end I am not that worried about whether art critics think if I have any talent or not. I think art is different to everyone anyway. But if what I paint and create can help people think about where we live in a different way, appreciate it in a different way, appreciate each other, perhaps in more positive ways and then the bonus would be if they get it that we got really exciting things going on in space that are helping us live better here, I feel like its done what I would like it to do.

Dodo: You are also a motivational speaker and you are actively working together with S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) that comes wonderfully through the integration of Art and Science.

Nicole: I think like we were talking about it before about people, I believe even if it’s in a small way, have both of these kinds of science and art, this kind of technical and creative thing going on in them – which I think is what helps make us human – I love that this approach to education and outreach incorporates that artistic side into the science and tech and engineering and math education side of things. It really is a more renaissance way I guess, to think about education and learning and developing our children and I love that that’s out there now, or maybe I should say out there again. Whether that acronym STEAM hangs around or not, I hope that the educational side of it with the tie between science and art will continue to grow.

Dodo: In what way do you think this integration of art and science changes a child? What benefits do yo think it gives to them once they go out into life, and they also start to add to life in general?

Nicole: I think it does in a lot of ways. I think it allows them to use their brain in a different way for sure. It’s a way for them to express themselves creatively and to communicate about things that might be difficult to express in some other way. I think it helps them to learn and understand things in a much more well rounded way than just the straight science or tech or some other way. I think it encourages their curiosity, whether you are wanting to learn about the theory of something or the history of something or the artistic aspects of that, it really encourages that curiosity. And I think from a perspective standpoint the ability to look at things from all different kinds of views, whether that’s just looking at a painting and thinking about it some way or looking at the science of something in some way and not just having blinders on it, to think of it only in one way. And that extends in just day to day life for kids and opening them up to new ideas and not being so rigid about things and a willingness to accept that everybody does not think the same way or the way that they do and that’s not always bad.

And I think it does come back around to what you spoke about in the beginning, just the basic humanity side of it. As human beings we have this free will and we feel and think differently about things. If we are looking at it from a positive standpoint, good things can come from it. I think it makes learning a much more positive and more renaissance way of thinking about the human being and all of us as well.

Dodo: It’s fantastic that you take this mission and that you feel in a someway responsible to give back to the future generations.

Nicole: Oh absolutely. Whether you want it to be or not I think it becomes an “obligation”. You have to share it. Until more and more people can get to do it, even then I think it’s going to be something that people will just feel the need to share. to me the ultimate way to share is through our kids and certainly through adults that needs a little bit broader perspective on things as well. But if we can get our kids thinking a little bit more globally that’s a good thing.

Dodo: You are also a mother of a son, right? Was your son born before you went to space or you becoming a mother came afterwards?

Nicole: His whole life has been lived in parallel with this going on. He was seven when I flew the first time and it was really important to my husband I to make sure that he felt like he was part of the crew, part of the mission. And I think that made it easier to keep him engaged as much as possible, to bring him out to the training when I could, so he could see what I was doing and to meet the people that I was working with and travel to the different countries where I was training and to develop those relationships as well. And to give him the chance to see that we don’t just live here in Houston, Texas, but we live here on Earth, and everybody doesn’t live the way we do and sometimes it’s better and worse than what we have, and to appreciate those kinds of things.

Dodo: I am pretty sure that you are his Hero, since you are not an average mother and you probably already have defined him with your mission.

Nicole: Sometimes maybe. I hope he finds his own thing. It is interesting as a parent to see how that develops in your child. I love that he doesn’t think only in being an astronaut when people ask him whether he wants to be an astronaut. He has formed his own ideas and interests and it’s really cool to see that. I hope that some of what my husband and I have done are a positive example for him. I really love that he doesn’t just say yes that’s what I want to do. He has looked at it from the different sides of things. But he appreciates the experiences that he has. At the speaking events he could speak a lot better about what I have done. I love that he has learned about it and he is a really cool kid.

Dodo: Do you think there is any connection between the outward space and the inner space we have as humans?

Nicole: Definitely, I do. I think there are a number of ways to look at that. You could look at it from the physical standpoint not so much as the human side of it. That Aquarius mission versus the space flight. Thinking of our Planet in space, you know that inner space aspect of the Earth, under the water and what goes on there and how that helps keep us alive as well here on this Planet. And then thinking of that outer space experience seeing more Earth itself as a spaceship with us on it, it is certainly a contrast that is interesting as human beings. I think the same goes on even when we talked about the art or how seeing the Earth maybe changes your perspective on things, or helps you recognise what your perspective was all along. For sure I do not think you experience something like flying in space and seeing the Earth the way you do from there without taking that feeling that you need, taking the time to reflect on how that is maybe psychologically or behaviourally or  inspirationally effecting you. Philosophically all of those things do good for you. And it does not happen just when you are flying in space.

I remember having those feelings when I flew in a small airplane the very first time, I saw my neighbourhood, those little toy cars and you wonder how you fit into that. You know whether we figure out the meaning of life ever for real or not, I think there is significance to it. Experiencing things like this help us recognise that whether for a fact we will never know everything about everything, but recognising that we have an important place in it all is important too.

Dodo: Do you still have strong desires to go back to space?

Nicole: Absolutely! You can ask me when I’m 90 years old and I will still want to do that. As I said, living vicariously through my friends now who are flying in space is fun for me too. I do not think that you can go there and not want to go back. I really do not. But I am thankful that I have come to that place, I call it the warm and fuzzy kind of feeling, but I have come to that place where if I do not do that again, it is OK. To be able now to spend time with my family the way I am, to be able to be more creative with the artworks and to communicate with people who would not have otherwise thought about these things, those are things I couldn’t do if I would stay in line for another space flight. And I think they are important as well.

Dodo: And you have a mission on Earth now. What is your most beautiful image of the Earth you safeguard in your heart?

Nicole: I think it is like that kind of collective thought of the mission overall being this one moment. I think it is just the overall impression of what Earth looks like and of realising what is going on down there. And those relationships of the family and the significance of the place I think are my image. To describe, it is that glow that we talked about before, the colours of what you think Earth being is just glowing in your face, and the beauty of it and the dynamics of it that it looks and is alive. I think that is the image that I have of it, it is that glow.

Dodo: Do you have any favourite colours?

Nicole: Blue, it is definitely my favourite colour.

Dodo: What was your very first thought, impression when the spaceship grounded/returned on Earth? Did you have anything special cam to your mind?

Nicole: During your space mission you spend significant time at your space station and you have a form of home at the space station, but I think when you get back to Earth you realise you are “home”. You are excited to see your family again. One of the other things that crosses your mind immediately is that “Wow, an hour ago I was in space” it is like a light switch.

You immediately feel that you are heavier than ever before, asking yourself how is it even possible. This feeling of surreal comes into it. How did I do that? How was that actually possible for me to do? And how was I blessed to have that experience?

Dodo: What do you think how does the commercial space travel effect the traditional space travels, discoveries, research in general for humanity? Do you think there is any effect or will it change?

Nicole: I do. Of course we are at that very beginning stages as we are right now, where it seems so distinct from what we have done traditionally with NASA or with the other international partners, space agencies. I think it will become a very natural part of space exploration overall. I think it has to. For us to really and truly explore and learn the things that we will, and ultimately benefit from that here on Earth, it has to become that way. Eventually there will be a blur of the line between what we do with NASA and what commercial space travel will do. I think certainly from the humanity side of things if more people had the chance to see the Earth from space, the more positive relationships will develop. The more people that have the opportunity to have this experience, the more ways they all will figure out to share the experience, and that is a good thing. That impression can be conveyed in different ways and people can appreciate this kind of globalness of who we are a lot better and understand better that the person on the other side of the Planet is on the same Planet, and you do have a connection whether you like out or not. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how much more we will learn about ourselves and each other and our Planet and how we step up to our responsibility take care of it all together, as Earthlings.

Nicole Stott in the "Cupola" with Earth behind and hope on her shirt
Nicole Stott in the “Cupola” with Earth behind and hope on her shirt. via Nicole Stott

Dodo: If you would have the chance to form a message for the future generation, what would it be?

Nicole: We live on and in a wonderful and really beautiful place. That should be one of the things that we are thinking about all of the times when we are making decisions about what we are going to do here or what we are going to do when we are going to explore further in space. One of the things that I love about what we are doing at the International Space Station right now is that it brought us together in a very international cooperation and global way and I do not think we can turn back from that now. It is like the first steps to really being one crew on spaceship Earth. We have this partnership on the International Space Station. I think anything we will do in the future with space exploration will be done that way and the beauty of it is that it improves our relationship with the same people here on Earth. All of these things that we are doing in space right now in that co-operative way are improving life here on Earth. The goal should always be improving life here on Earth regardless of whether we have people living in much distant places, this will always be our home Planet and to the extent that we can, we are obligated to take care of it. And my hope is that in future generations what we do and explore, will continue to be to the benefit of Earth and all her crew.

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