MOSI is reopening with an exciting new exhibit in partnership with the Space for Art Foundation and veteran NASA astronaut Nicole Stott. We wanted to learn more about the Tampa Bay mom who has made two spaceflights, one space walk and has spent 104 days living in space! It’s safe to say she’s out of this world and so is this new exhibit she’s helped bring to life.
What inspired you to become an astronaut?
Stott: I grew up in Clearwater. My grandparents on my dad’s side and parents moved to Florida from New York when I was about a year old. I went to Plumb and Palmetto Elementary schools and Oak Grove Middle School and graduated from Clearwater High in 1980.
My parents shared what they loved with me and my two younger sisters. My mom was a nurse and is very creative – she sewed all of our clothes growing up! Since it was back in the ‘70s, she was creating hooked rugs and pottery and macramé and always involved us too. My dad was a businessman. He loved to build and fly small airplanes. We grew up with airplanes being built in our garage and hanging out at Clearwater Airpark. I learned to love flying out there and discovered that I wanted to know how things fly.
I earned my private pilot’s license through St Petersburg College’s (St Pete Jr College back then) Aviation Administration program, then went on to study aeronautical engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
I moved away for school and work to West Palm Beach, Cocoa Beach, Huntington Beach, California, and Houston, Texas, but always with the intent of coming home to the Tampa Bay Area. After 20 years in Houston, we are so happy to be back!
My husband is also in the space industry, in satellite telecommunications. My son–who I’m very pleased to say is learning how to fly and loves SCUBA diving—is a junior in high school.
Wanting to know how things fly is what led me to wanting to know how rocket ships fly and ultimately to wanting to work for NASA. I always thought (from the time I saw the Moon landing) that the astronaut job was really interesting, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I even considered it to be something other than a job that “only other special people” get to do. I almost doubted myself right out of picking up the pen to apply. I’m thankful to mentors for encouraging me.
You have seen the magnificent beauty of our planet from the best seat in the house. How has this changed your perspective on our planet and what role does this play with your love of art?
Stott: I’m very thankful to have experienced the view of our planet from the very special vantage point of space. It’s a pretty complex thing to launch people on rockets safely to space, to live and work in space even for a short time and to return home safely—not not to mention the science and work we’re doing in space that’s all about improving life on Earth and the peaceful and successful relationships we’ve established with our 15 partner countries on the International Space Station (ISS). [It’s] such a wonderful model for how we could be living peacefully and successfully as crew members here on Spaceship Earth.
In all that complexity though, I came home with three very simple lessons in mind. We all know these things by the time we’re in elementary school, but for some reason most of us have let the significance of them drop out of consciousness in our lives. We live on a planet. We are all Earthlings. The only border that matters is the thin blue line of atmosphere that blankets and protects us all.
I had the opportunity to paint with watercolors while I was in space and since retiring from NASA I want my artwork to be a way to share my spaceflight experience with anyone who will listen, and with the hope that they will incorporate them into their daily lives like I have. I think they are powerful lessons to consider in everything we do.
Let’s talk about the Space for Art Foundation.
Stott: We are on a mission of Space, Art and Healing. We use large-scale community art projects to inspire and unite children in hospitals, refugee centers and schools around the world with each other and our interdisciplinary team of art, aerospace, astronaut and health professionals. Our first art spacesuit, Hope, was created in 2016. Since then we have created 8 different global community art projects (including five art spacesuits) and have worked with children in hospitals and refugee centers in over 45 different countries. These projects focus on the awe and wonder of space exploration and the connection between personal and planetary health, and raise awareness of our role as crew members, not just passengers, on Spaceship Earth.
Our strategy is to facilitate and implement space-themed art and healing programs; to award scholarships and grants to art students and artists who want to develop their own space-themed art therapy ideas; and to document our work in support of on-going research in the field of art and healing.
Our current project is BEYOND. We are hopeful to have children participating from every country on the planet.
We are excited about the Space for Art exhibit at MOSI! What can families expect when we go?
Stott: We’re excited about it too! This will be the second large scale exhibit that we’ve done. The first was held in 2016 at the Space Center Houston visitor complex. We are thrilled to have MOSI hosting this event.
We’ll have a beautiful display of several of the different Space for Art projects and a Lunarscape and Earthrise experience, all surrounded by artwork and interactive experiences created by people you would normally think of as technical (e.g. astronauts, scientists, local engineers and science students). We want to present a story of how beautifully and meaningfully art and science come together.
MOSI is the perfect place for Space for Art, as their permanent space and science collection and their makerspace activities are wonderfully complementary to the Space for Art mission. We hope that anyone who visits the exhibit will leave inspired by space exploration and the intersection between art and science. We hope they will find some awe and wonder through the creativity they experience and that they will leave feeling like crew members of Spaceship Earth.
Many families are discovering a new love for art after weeks at home due to the pandemic. Why do you think it’s important we introduce our children to art?
Stott: I believe our children should be using their whole brains. We want our children to be creative problem solvers; that’s why we send them to school, to learn how to use their brains and talents to help make the world a better place and overcome challenges. Art helps us communicate really complex things—astrophysicists have been using false colored images from spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope for years. They color the images to understand the composition of the universe because our brains process the images much better than they do the 1’s and 0’s, and as a result we get some really pretty pictures too.
I also think that art and the humanities and social studies are the best way for us to understand ourselves and each other, our cultures and history and our hopes for the future.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Tampa Bay as a family?
Stott: Enjoying the outdoors – kayaking and boating on the intracoastal, walking our dogs on the beach (Fort De Soto), visiting museums and galleries, exploring what’s new in St Pete, and eating at all of the amazing restaurants in the area.
Originally published in Tampa Bay Parenting’s June Issue.