Painting in space with astronaut Nicole Stott

Astronaut Nicole Stott looks up at the camera from inside a spacecraft

23 April 2020 2 minute read


If you’ve ever stared up at the night sky with curiosity and a sense of wonder, then this week’s episode of the Create the Future podcast is for you.

This month, two huge engineering achievements are being celebrated. The first is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, where engineers rescued astronauts from sudden disaster; the second is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, which forever changed our perception of the universe in terms of both science and, through its stunning astronomical images, art.

In this episode of Create the Future, we speak to someone whose career has combined all of this: former astronaut, engineer, and artist Nicole Stott. We speak to Nicole about her experiences in spaceflight and what it takes to become an astronaut, how living on the International Space Station compares with life in quarantine, and what it was like to paint the first watercolour, in orbit, at 17,500 miles per hour.

About the Guest

Nicole Stott is an American engineer, former astronaut, and artist. After studying aviation administration at St Petersburg College, she graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelor of Science in 1987. In 1992, Stott graduated a master’s in engineering management from the University of Central Florida.

Stott went on to a successful 27-year career at NASA, during which she had two spaceflights. She served as a flight engineer on a long-duration mission on board the International Space Station, and a mission specialist on a shuttle mission.

On 21 October 21 2009, Stott participated in the first NASA Tweetup from the station, with members of the public gathered at NASA Headquarters. This was the first live Twitter connection for those living in space.

After retiring from NASA in 2015, Nicole founded the Space for Art Foundation. The foundation combines an interdisciplinary team to create community art projects that inspire children in hospitals, refugee centres, and schools around the world.

Episode highlights

  • "I really think it's the way an engineer's brain works. You're wanting to solve problems; you're wanting to get creative about that. Art is just another way. Art in the kind of true sense of art is another way of communicating complex things. And we've been doing that in science forever. The Hubble Space Telescope, a really beautiful example of how this intersection between science and art helps best tell the story of the science that we're finding."
  • "For a person who loves flying to now be able to combine this love of space and the engineering role I had as a NASA engineer, and then be able to sit centre seat between an astronaut and an instructor as that astronaut learns how to land the space shuttle, I didn't think it could get any better.
  • "I don't know if self-isolation during a pandemic is a piece of cake for anyone honestly. We're all struggling with this in one way or another and I feel very fortunate [for] the situation that I'm in. But I know that is not the same for everyone, and I really appreciate that. I find myself reflecting on the spaceflight experience though, and trying to employ perhaps some of those ways that we worked there together in a spaceship to how we're living."
  • "Within the engineering community – within the technical community, quite honestly – as a whole there are very creative people there, most of whom have some artistic outlet."

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