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Putting the A in STEAM with Astronaut Nicole Stott.

Nicole Stott, Retired Astronaut and Founder of the Space For Art Foundation shares how her time in space has influenced her life as a crew member on Earth.



Deep Space


Retired NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott shares how her time in space has influenced her life as a crewmate on spaceship Earth. Nicole founded the Space For Art Foundation with an aim to unite a planetary community of children through the awe and wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art. She shares her passion for art as a tool to inspire future generations of space explorers.

You can connect with Nicole on LinkedIn and learn more Space For Art on their website.

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[MUSIC] The STEM versus STEAM debate has many in the space industry perplexed.

Do we focus on the hard subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math to inspire future generations to look to the stars?

Or do we use our whole brains and include the humanities, especially art, to open up space for all?

[MUSIC] Welcome to T-Mind as Deep Space from N2K Networks.

I'm Maria Varmasus.

[MUSIC] As an artist and a space fan, I cannot begin to express just how excited I was to speak with retired astronaut Nicole Stott.

Nicole is an astronaut, aquanaut, artist, mom, and author of the book Back to Earth, What Life in Space taught me about our home planet and our mission to protect it.

Nicole spent 104 days in space as a crew member on both the space shuttle and the International Space Station.

But it's not her time as an astronaut that I really wanted to speak to Nicole about.

Nicole used her downtime in space to paint a watercolor in microgravity, which is now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Her work as an artist has inspired many, myself included.

And she has used her platform to connect with children around the world through her foundation, Space for Art.

The foundation aims to unite a planetary community of children through the awe and wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art.

This is her story.

I'm Nicole Stott.

I am a retired NASA astronaut and aquanaut.

I am an artist, which I hope we'll talk more about today, and author, and most importantly, a mom.

>> I love that.

That's so great, Nicole.

Thank you so much for joining me.

As a mom and an artist who is interested in space, I could not be more excited to be speaking to you because the one thing we have in common is we both love watercolors, clearly.

I just would love to hear from you about your experience painting watercolors in space just to start with.

We're skipping over, you're incredible NASA career.

>> No, please.

>> I'm sure you've talked about it so many times.

I'm really curious about the art.

So what's done even there?

>> And I love it.

I love the interest in that too because I think when it all comes down to it, I think we should all be using our whole brains, right?

And what I've discovered of my other astronaut colleagues and people along the way in what you would think of just as a technical world, there is so much art and creativity and I don't know, going on in all of these people that sometimes just doesn't get acknowledged the way it should be.

So I'm thankful.

I did get to paint in space.

I painted with watercolors.

It was something I wouldn't have thought to do myself.

So I am very thankful to my friend Mary Jane Anderson, who was one of the folks that helped us pack our stuff to take to space.

And as astronauts, I think we're so wrapped up in, okay, I want to make sure my checklists are right and I want to make sure I've got whatever I need while I'm there and that I'm taking things, like my son's little stuffed animal and things like that.

But I wasn't really thinking about what I would do in my free time in space.

Because I guess I didn't really even acknowledge that there would be free time.

>> Yeah, I could imagine that.

>> It's kind of you're so busy and ready.

And I'm thankful to Mary Jane for just encouraging me to bring something that I love doing on Earth with me.

So it was very last minute, very, okay, I'll take watercolors.

And no big plan for how I'd do it or how I'd use it after retiring from NASA or anything, but very thankful.

And it is absolutely one of the personal highlights to me of the mission.

As you can imagine, you're not dipping your brush in a cup of water because there are no cups of water.

You're dipping your brush into floating balls of water.

And you have to keep everything organized because everything floats and.

>> Can I get really art nerdy with you for a second?

Were you using tubes or pans?

Like what were you using?

I'm so curious.

>> No, I was using one of those little, it almost looks like a kid's kit of art.

But it was like the little separate cubes of watercolor that, I mean it was like a groom mucker, I don't wanna quote, but it's like one of the professional ones, it was a good brand.

>> A good brand, a good good art brand.

>> But so all the individual little cubes and it's got the little plastic carry case thing to go along with it.

But it looks a little bit like when you stick it up on the wall, it looks a little like a kid's art paint kit.

>> I could totally imagine.

>> And I was using, I love this question too because the kit was one thing.

But the paint brush I had was a friend of mine's brush that I brought with me.

And I had already was packing that to take for him.

He's an amazing guy, his name is Ron Woods.

He was a flight crew equipment guy as well.

He helped me get suited up, I worked with him for years.

But he's a guy who helped suit up the Apollo guys to go to the moon.

And in parallel with being this really awesome flight crew equipment guy and suit engineer, he was an artist.

He is an artist, one of the most talented watercolor artists I've ever met.

And his subject is always like space suits and hardware and things, really cool.

And so I took his, one of his very early brushes with me.

And so I, when I was gonna take the watercolors, I said, can I use your brush to paint with?

And so I got to paint with his brush in space too, which was really fun.

But everything's floating, the ball is water floating.

You have to kind of carefully take that floating ball of water down to that paint to mix it and get the colored water to pull off of the palette.

And then discovered that if I touched my brush to the paper, like tried to paint with the paintbrush, the whole blob of colored water would just go into the paper.

So like everything in microgravity that's just a little bit different, I had to discover what is the technique that I can use with this brush to paint with.

And as it turned out, there was kind of like this perfect distance from the tip of the brush to the paper with the ball of water, colored water that you could drag it along the paper.

It was so cool.

>> I'm so sorry I'm nerding out about this.

So much about when we do watercolor in earth gravities, we need gravity to do a lot of that work.

And without gravity, I'm wondering how on earth do you do a lot of those techniques like just putting a wash down.

So yeah, that's so fascinating what you figured out.

>> Yeah, that was probably the easiest, like just getting the whole paper wet.

That was like the easiest thing.

And then, but to actually paint to like put any detail in it, because watercolors are hard anyway, right?

Watercolors are difficult medium to paint with and have it look anything like what you want it to look like.

But it was fun to discover that and I wish I would have, I wish I would have activated my brain cell to video the whole thing, to take a film of it.

Because I think it could have been a really cool way to just show what it's like to live in microgravity in general, where everything floats and you've got to keep track of your stuff and things behave differently.

It's not more difficult, it's just different.

And sadly, I didn't do that, so maybe someday I can go back and on my second flight I didn't even think about.

I'd be over there for two weeks and I didn't get to think about painting.

So let alone even looking for my paint kit that somehow has gone missing.

So I would love to find that.

>> That's amazing.

I for me as someone who also I always travel with watercolors wherever I go.

So when I saw your work and I even think way back to like Alexey Leonov's color pencil sketch, I'm never without my art materials.

And I never related so much to anything in the space world.

Then when I saw your work and his color pencil sketch, cuz I'm like that's exactly what I do.

>> Yeah, it's putting the art or putting the human in human space flight, right?

And art and all that's kind of the humanity of us and we wanna bring it wherever we go.

And I love that you know about Alexey and then you can just look historically all through human space flight and discover poets and musicians.

And Karen Nyberg, you should talk to Karen sometime who quilted in space.

She quilted it and now the work she's doing.

And I mean, photography, some people who, I mean, if you weren't a photographer before you got to space, you become one because you just wanna capture all of that experience.

And then the people who came back to Earth after flying in space and maybe didn't do their art there, but Alan being in his paintings.

And I got Al Warden's book behind me that is just this book of poetry about being an astronaut.

And people don't think about it.

They want too much to separate this whole stem thing.

We've got nothing against the stem, but we need to throw the A in and maybe we just get rid of the acronym and just start encouraging the use of our whole brains in the way we teach our kids and the way we solve problems.

I think it would be a better approach.

>> I could not agree more.

I feel very strongly about this that we are whole people.

I've known so many brilliant artists who are also brilliant scientists and vice versa, there's no need to separate it.

>> None, it's kind of like science and religion, which we don't have to go down that path today, but there doesn't have to be conflict between science and art.

It's whole brain.

And do you ever do play now?

Are you ever outside?

I mean, I guess when you're taking your stuff, you're painting wherever you are, right?

>> I mean, yeah, I love doing play now.

I admittedly am a very fast sketcher.

I'm a cartoonist for the most part, so I love to observe people when I'm out and about.

My favorite thing since my daughter's been born is painting her with my husband.

>> Oh.

>> It's been, yeah.

>> Well, you need to tell me where I can go see that.

>> I would be honored.

I would love to share that with you.

Yeah, I love painting my daughter and my husband.

When we go on vacation, I live in Massachusetts, so we go to Cape Cod.

And when we're on the beach, I'll just paint them playing together.

And they become my favorite.

So I'm getting emotional thinking about it.

They're my favorite things.

And yeah, but I was reading that.

How on earth do you do plane air when the earth is moving past?

>> Yeah, don't.

>> I was gonna say.

>> And you don't.

I mean, you have to take a picture.

That's so funny.

It's like, it's one of the things I like to try to.

But yeah, you can float in front of the window and paint if you want.

But you're not gonna be necessarily painting what you see.

Your subjects are gonna move.

At five miles a second, it's gonna be gone before you get the brush to the paper.

But it's certainly inspirational.

>> Yeah.

>> So I just printed out.

Printed out the picture I wanted to paint.

>> Yeah.

[MUSIC] We'll be right back after this quick break.

[MUSIC] >> Nicole, my brain is going in two different directions.

One is, I would love to know about what you're working on now.

But I also, I can't help but ask, like artists to artists, when you plumb those depths of your memories, of your experiences now, I mean, do you find that there is enough?

I mean, what is that like for you now as an artist?

Like going back to the, do you go back to those times?

Do you still find inspiration from that or are you going in other directions?

>> Yeah, I mean, my artwork, when I have time to do it, which is not often.

And I hope you're finding the time.

My inspiration is completely from the spaceflight experience.

There is an endless number of pictures I could use to, as my inspirational photo, when I'm thinking about, even when I'm thinking about things that are kind of fantastical, it's, it all kind of goes back to that experience.

I think that's where I get my greatest inspiration.

And then when I'm working with the kids on projects, we always try to keep it space-themed one way or another.

Even if they want to paint their dog, it's, we start out with space and all these things we're doing in space that are about improving life on Earth and the connection between personal and planetary health and being crewmates.

I mean, all of that, I think you can bring to life through creativity as well.

And then encourage people to carry it with them.


>> Yeah, so tell me about, you just started teasing that great information about what you're working on now.

So tell me a bit about the amazing projects that you're working now.

>> Yeah, it's kind of spread around, but I think underlying it all is this inspiration of space and the way it can get, especially kids, thinking about their future.

I wrote a book that I hope everybody takes some inspiration from.

And it's, I never wanted to write that Here's How Nicole Became An Astronaut Book.

So this became more about the ways, just the ways we have managed to live and work in space together as an international community that should be brought back to Earth, that how we should be treating, and I'm not the first one to coin this term of our planetary spaceship.

We need to be the crewmates, not the passengers on board.

That's a big deal.

And so that just underlies everything that I'm doing, whether it's through an organization we formed called the Space for Art Foundation, where in the simplest way, that space-themed art therapy, working with kids all over the world.

And we believe we are uniting a planetary community of children through the on-wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art.

And these are kids that are in places that you hope is the worst thing they're ever going to go through in their lives, right?

They're in a pediatric cancer center or an orphanage or a refugee center.

And it's incredible to me, and I'm sure you've seen it with your connection now to the space world and through the art is just how inspirational space is, first of all.

And then you throw art at kids and allow them to create based on that kind of theme or inspiration and holy moly, even a kid in a pediatric kid, they're sitting up straighter, they're thinking about their future.

They're transcending this experience that they're going through at the time.

And for me, that's been the greatest gift.

I feel like it's my real mission now is to continue that work.

I feel like I got to go to space.

I got to paint in space so I could come back to Earth and do that work.

And then a really beautiful extension of that that I think where we reach out to more than just kids is with my partner and purpose, Christina Korp.

We're working with her organization called Space for a Better World, where we really talk about bringing it back to Earth.

We really want people to understand all of the awesomeness that's going on in space that is all about improving life on Earth and how every day embedded in our lives is the benefit of space exploration.

And we believe, I think we could spend a couple hours talking about this, but I think we believe that every significant and even insignificant, perhaps planetary challenge that we have could be solved in some way through what we're learning and benefiting from in space.

So, Space for a Better World.

And Christina will tell you that the whole role there is to connect the space curious to the space serious and somehow, again, bring that crewmate to life and everyone.

>> I love that.


It's a great mission and I've had the privilege of speaking to Christina in the past as well.

It is such a needed, it is so needed.

I can't tell you.

Yeah, I'm sure, you know better than I do, obviously.

>> Well, I don't know about that.

I don't know.

I mean, I'd like to think there, I would love it if you knew more than me, because I think it's important that everybody, I think we all need to raise our awareness of not just the awe and wonder that's surrounding us every day, that really can lift us up to make us great crewmates.

But we need to raise our awareness of where all of the gifts are coming from, all of the solutions are coming from.

And space is not this wasteful place.

I think the media definitely misleads the general population and I think Christina would agree with me.

I mean, I'm high five in the billionaires that are spending their money on space exploration.

Because if you look at their motivation, it's all about improving life on earth.

They might not be the best salespeople or the best PR people from that underlying motivation.

But man, you don't have to dig deep to discover it.

And so, very thankful for that.

>> I hear you, I hear you.

Yeah, and going back to also the artwork that you were talking about working with children who are in some cases and just, yeah, with pediatric cancer wards and giving them hope.

And that's the one thing, when I've done work with children on artwork, it's amazing how easily children connect and express themselves with art.

I'm always trying to figure out when does that happen as we become adults, that we lose that.

And then we start bifurcating ourselves and see this, I must be one or another and is it, I mean, what happened?

Why are us grown up so boring?

>> It makes me so sad, you know?

I don't know, maybe it's the same time we forget that we live on a planet.

>> [LAUGH] >> We have that art stuff and then we forget we live on a planet.

There's such simple things that I think just underlie, like all of what all of us have in common and how we can bring that together in the most positive way.

And creative thinking is just, I mean, it's one of those that it does make me sad that, I understand the need for the stem movement, but the implementation of it, I think just completely has been done at the expense of the humanities and the arts and the idea that this creative side of us has value.

And we need to be reinforcing that, especially for our kids, where they might, I mean, and I've seen this happen where they set off on a path of wanting to be an artist of wanting to be able to express ideas creatively.

And then later in life, they discover some technical or science thing that comes from it.

And the other way too, somebody's very, like thinks they just want to be a scientist or a technical person and they discover art along the way.

It's so awesome when we can keep those two things alive from the very beginning.

And I don't think we should be discouraging either of them.

And so I love your questions focused on the art because I think it really does allow, especially our kids, to bring their best to bear, to bring all of their talents alive for all of us, for the benefit of all of us.


>> Yeah, thank you.

I mean, I'm a self-professed like many people, I'm sure, space geek since I was a kid.

But to me, what are we doing any of this for if we're not bringing our whole human selves to what we're doing?

And I've always been an artist, I'm an artist now, I'm trying to teach my daughter everything I know.

And the idea of just only being part of ourselves as we try to become interplanetary or why would we do that and then leave what I consider the ultimate human expression behind?

Like why?

>> Why human and human space life?

Yeah, it's like, and you think about it, it's like people try to separate it.

And I'm like, okay, all right, think back, even the scientists, they've been using art all along, like whether it's illustrations like you say, or if they had to, they could, I guess, just use all the ones and zeros that come back from Hubble or from web, right?

I take a lot of time to really decipher all the data.

Instead, they purposely, what do they do?

They throw infrared cameras on and ultraviolet and they have colors that are going to signify a temperature or a distance or a chemical and because their brains process that better.

And then we get the benefit of this really gorgeous nebula picture.

But embedded in that is a very creative artistic way of bringing the data to life.

And that's been going on since the beginning of scientific expression as well.

And so I don't know, and I, the way we get support for the programs we want to do is by creatively, not falsely, but creatively telling the story of the science.

And I've seen the eyes roll with the ones and zeros.

But when you speak to a group and use art as like the universal communicator of some of the most complex ideas, it just, like those kids that are painting in the hospital, they just sit up, the adults sit up straight or they want to make the connection to it.

And art is such a great way for us to do that.

>> I couldn't agree more.

It makes me so happy to hear you say that.

I know you've said it many times in your career, but I just love hearing it.

[LAUGH] It just makes me so happy.

Nicole, I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed speaking with you.

I could probably talk to you for hours, honestly, but I won't do that to you today.

So I just want to make sure.

[LAUGH] I want to make sure that I give you the last word.

If there's anything you want to leave us with, I just figured I'd let you have the floor.

>> Well, and I think if we think about it after I say it, the art and our creative, curious spirit comes out in this as well.

And that's, I went to space, it was a really complex thing.

But I think the things I reflect on the most are the simple truths of it.

Like things we've learned in kindergarten, right?

Like, holy moly, we live on a planet that we are all Earthlings.

Only border that matters, that thin blue line of atmosphere that's blanketing and protecting us all.

And that if we choose to behave, to accept our role, I would say, as crewmates and not passengers, we absolutely have the power to create a future for all life on Earth that's as beautiful as it looks from space.

And so I'm very happy, Maria, to have you as a fellow crewmate, and I hope everyone listening will join.

[MUSIC] That's it for Team Ina's Deep Space for April 13th, 2024.

We'd love to know what you think of this podcast.

You can email us at space@entuk.com or submit the survey in the show notes.

Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry.

This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound designed by Elliot Peltzman.

Our associate producer is Liz Stokes.

Our executive producer is Jen Iban.

Our VP is Brandon Karp, and I'm Maria Varmausis.

Thanks for listening.

We'll see you next time.


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