Former-NASA astronaut Nicole Stott shares what her time on two Space Shuttle Missions has taught her
How did your outlook on life change after spending time in space?
It seems like such a simple thing, but until I flew into space I never thought about the fact that we live on a planet. There’s something really profound when you realise there’s this interconnectivity between everything when you see Earth from space. That ‘Earthling’ idea is huge to me now so I think I need to take the experience and try to affect change from it. I know I can’t make all that change, but maybe my interaction between other people will get them thinking that way as well.
You were the only female crewmember on your missions. How did you find working in a male-dominated environment?
As I was training I didn’t feel like there were lower expectations of me. I looked around me and the entire time I was at NASA, I was working with women. There was always this nice mix of women and men in the jobs that I was doing. I guess the fact that I wasn’t the only woman in all those places made the training and the flying in space – even though I was the only female crew member – not really feel like that.
Do you see yourself as a role model to young people?
I have an obligation to be a role model and not just for young girls but for kids of all ages. Young girls I think really need to see women doing things that might seem challenging or impossible to them. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can be so inspirational in so many ways. Those kinds of places can inspire you to figure out what you’re interested in or just open up your mind to really cool things that are out there.
What kept you motivated throughout your NASA career?
My initial inspiration came from my family, from my parents. Flying in space is a lot easier for you to do it than it is for somebody to watch you do. I knew that was stressful for my mom, for my sisters, for my husband, for my son. You need to be very deliberate about including them as part of your crew, exposing them to as much of what you’re doing as possible, so they feel like they’re a part of it.
What’s your favourite memory from your time in space?
Definitely, a highlight is the view out the window. You get sucked into that view and, at least for me, I had to set my timer to float away from it, to get BACK to work because I did have a couple of calls like ‘hey, you’re supposed to be doing something else right now!’ [laughs]. It’s really difficult because part of all the favourite memories is that you’re not up there alone. Anything I ever looked out the window and saw, you’d be calling somebody over to experience that with you.
What are your top three NASA career highlights?
I think for sure one was getting that job at Kennedy Space Center where I got to work with every aspect of how you work on a space shuttle and a Space Station programme. Number two would be not getting selected to be an astronaut the first time – it was a really good thing for me. For two years, I was training other astronauts how to fly. Then I got selected and I would have to say that’d be the third highlight. The goal for any astronaut, ultimately, is to fly in space, but there’s really no guarantee that will ever happen.
What has the most important thing that being an astronaut taught you?
It all wraps up into that ‘Earthling’ appreciation lesson. When I think about the Space Station programme and the way we truly have demonstrated that you can peacefully and successfully work in cooperation with somebody that works on the other side of the planet, that’s a really wonderful thing to consider for how we do things down here on Earth.
Find out more at KennedySpaceCenter.com