Nicole Stott - Astronaut, Engineer and Artist

By Zoe Chee posted 01-04-2021 16:34


I want to start this first blog by saying how incredibly honored I am that AWB invited me to participate as the AstroArtist of the Month.  This is really a very humbling thing for me.

My entire professional career over the past 30 years has focused on the "Astro" piece of AstroArtist - first as a NASA engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs at both the Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers, and later as a NASA astronaut who was blessed to fly twice in space.  The "Artist" has always been there in the background, but last year as I was coming to the decision to retire from my NASA career, I was discovering that it was also important for me to shift the focus from Astro to Artist.

This shift to Artist came as I was trying to find the best way to share the overwhelmingly impressive experience I was blessed to have living and working and flying in space.   The spaceflight experience is impactful in so many ways, and I think that finding a personal and meaningful way to express it is important to every astronaut.  For me, the single most personal and meaningful way I have found is through my artwork.

First painting in space by a NASA Astronaut, October 2009.  Nicole brought a small watercolor kit & the paintbrush of friend & wonderful artist Ron Wood's along with her to the ISS.  She painted "The Wave" based on a picture of Isla Los Roques, Venezuela that she took through the window of the Russian Service Module.

As part of my time in space, I was really fortunate to be able to spend some of my free time painting.  Watercolors in microgravity actually turned out to be a lot easier to manage than I had thought it might be.  It really was all about being careful with how much water I squirted out of the drink bag and making sure to wick it all up in the paintbrush.  It was pretty cool to see how these different properties of water in space could actually work to my advantage to do something I enjoyed like painting.

Each one of my paintings tells a different story; each one shares a profound and emotional part of my own personal experience; and each one presents a part of the spaceflight experience that reminds me of not only the very special place I was living, but also of the incredibly special and ultimately important place I had the privilege of witnessing from such an awesome and surreal vantage point. That incredibly special and ultimately important place is our home - our planet - our own personal spaceship - Earth.

"eARTh from space" is the theme of all of my artwork.
This "theme" for me all really started with that first painting I did onboard the ISS.  The opportunity to paint something I saw with my own eyes and was able to photograph for inspiration was very special.  It has been very interesting to me to reflect on how the impression of looking out the windows of our spacecraft evolved over the duration of the spaceflight.  When I first got to space I of course just wanted to see what anything looked like through the windows and from that perspective, but soon it was important to look for things that were familiar.  I think that's true for most things we do in life - we first look for what's familiar.  For me that was places like Florida, where I grew up and considered my home.

Then it became about processing things that don't make immediate sense to your brain, like watching your friend crawl along the "bottom" of the space station without falling off.

Then it became a lesson in geography.  What better place to get to really know your home planet than from the overhead vantage point of the ISS.  We would challenge ourselves as a crew to look out the window and be able to tell where we were over the planet without looking at the map on our computer.

Then it became an opportunity to appreciate the contrasting beauty of our spacecraft against the backdrop of our wonderfully colorful and glowing planet.

And finally it became just simply about the beauty of our planet.  It became less important to know where we were flying over, but more about what beautiful surprise would be presented - what art our planet would have on display.

The subject of that first painting I did onboard ISS has been the inspiration for several of my paintings since then.  "The Wave" helped me take the first steps on my next life adventure as an artist.

"The Wave"

 Mixed media embellishment with oil paint, sea glass, glass beads and sand on satin digital c-print image on aluminum.  Inspired by photo of Isla los Roques, Venezuela taken by Nicole from the ISS.
Earth Observation Collection ~ eARTh from space

Our planet, our Earth, is stunningly, overwhelmingly beautiful.  Each orbit presented some new and different perspective of that beauty. Through my artwork I am attempting to uniquely share even just a glimpse of that beauty, with the hope that out of that beauty, others will gain the same heightened appreciation for our planet and our spacecraft that I am blessed to now feel - and that I feel an obligation to share.

Through this blog series, I look forward to sharing some additional thoughts on inspiration and on this post-NASA life I am so fortunate to be experiencing.

Read the rest of Nicole's AstroArts Blog here.