Leading up to The AIM HIGHER GALA that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 16, humanity's future at the Moon on Artemis, with distinguishes guest Astronauts and scientists, we interviewed, Nicole Stott, veteran NASA Astronaut with two spaceflights and 104 days living and working in space as a crewmember on both the International Space Station (ISS) and the Space Shuttle.
Stott describes herself as Astronaut~Artist~Earthling, we asked about these seemingly contradicting definitions, and how it is really to travel and get exposed to the awe and wonder of her spaceflight experiences.
Nicole Stott: I am blessed by my time in space as an astronaut. I find myself now living vicariously through my friends while they’re experiencing their spaceflights, and you can ask me when I’m 90 if I’d like to fly in space again and the answer is absolutely yes-but I can also say that I love my time more on our home planet (which is also in space) as an Earthling.
Even as an astronaut, while floating in space, the significance of it all was that all of the work we’re doing there is ultimately all about improving life on Earth.
That very special vantage point affords the opportunity to visually and emotionally consider who and where we all are together, on a planet, in space — to acknowledge the reality of the interconnectivity of everyone and everything we share our planet with.
This reality check we’re presented with from a windowed spaceship pretty much sums up our reality – and it does so in a profound yet simple way – by reminding us that we live on a planet, that we are all Earthlings, and that the only border that matters is the thin blue line of atmosphere that blankets and protects us all. Sadly, while we all learned these things very early in life, this reality is not something we tend to carry forward with us and actively consider in our daily lives - but there’s not a day that goes by now when I don’t wake up with that reality in mind.
I’m hopeful that by sharing my spaceflight experience and what we continue to do “off the Earth, for the Earth”, will be help encourage everyone to acknowledge these 3 lessons and to realize that the greatest role we have as Earthlings is to live our lives like crewmates, not passengers, of Spaceship Earth.
Is this experience different through the eyes of artist?
I think the most important thing, whether traveling or standing in my own backyard, is to open up my heart and mind to the awe and wonder that surrounds me in that place. By doing so, I’m not only more able to reflect on the spaceflight experience, which also allows me to find new ways to discover and appreciate my terrestrial surroundings by considering the up close and personal perspective of the places I saw from the extraordinary vantage point on orbit, but I’m also able to think about it the other way around too. This happens a lot in both familiar and unfamiliar places on the planet – I’ll find myself wondering how all of the colors of the place where I have my feet on the ground would look from the distant view through my spaceship window, at what point do the details of the nature around me blur to the blend of colors we know Earth to be, and how should we be using this relationship between color and distance to better understand our relationship with the planet and all life we share our planet with. And as an artist, I like to try to capture the experience in as many ways as possible and then to create something of inspiration, like a painting, to represent not just what I was seeing but what I was feeling during the journey.
Physically, while in space, our bodies are impacted by the lack of gravity. Our brains and bodies are pretty amazing though – they figure out very quickly how to adapt to new and even extreme environments. On the plus side of our body and brain ‘figuring it out’, you learn to move effortlessly while floating and gracefully in 3 dimensions, but at the same time, on the not so good side, your brain and body also figure out that you don’t need much bone or muscle to do so…. So they stop wasting energy to maintain them. This leads to a significant acceleration of bone and muscle loss. That’s not a good thing if you have any plans to return back to Earth. We have a number of different countermeasures to this – primarily 2 hours of exercise a day on both aerobic and resistive exercise devices. (I actually came back in better shape than when I got to the space station, because who normally has 2 hours a day to exercise!) For mental preparation, I think most astronauts are already in a place that positions them for doing good work in a very different environment and staying mentally well too. The bulk of our training in one way or another is about how to work as a good team (a good crew). Along the way we are also challenged to identify and acknowledge our own strengths and weaknesses, which is key to working as a good crew (both on and off the planet).
Can you tell more about your Space for Art Foundation?
We started the work of the foundation in 2015 before we had even considered , before the foundation was eventually formed in 2018. Our mission motto is --- We are uniting a planetary community of children through the awe and wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art. In short we are creating and implementing space-themed art therapy programs that bring children together from around the world through their artwork.
The Space for Art Foundation is on a mission of Space, Art, & Healing. We are creating large-scale space-themed art projects. Building our crew of ‘Artonauts’- Children creating art together from hospitals, refugee centers, & schools around the world, and much more.
Our strategy is to facilitate and implement space-themed art & healing programs. We have awarding scholarships & grants to art students & artists who want to develop their own space-themed 'art & healing' ideas.
We started working on our first art spacesuit with children in one pediatric cancer center in Houston – since then we’ve worked on art spacesuits and electronic and interactive art pieces with children in hospitals, refugee centers, orphanages, and schools in every country on the planet. We are thankful for the continued generosity of our partners with ILC Dover Astrospace, ABlok Interactive Experiences, Club for the Future, and UNITY Movement Foundation --- all working together to bring these projects to life.
What legacy can our generation leave for the next?
"Back to Earth" is meant as a call to action; as a way to look at a beautiful “off the Earth” example of how we can live like crewmates, not passengers, here on Spaceship Earth. I think our legacy can be to choose to live like crew. By living like crewmates, we have the power to create a future for all life on Earth that’s as beautiful as it looks from space.
Dr. Sian Proctor is the mission pilot for the Inspiration4 all-civilian orbital mission to space. We wanted to know more about it and how Dr Proctor reflects on the progress in space exploration over the past decades.
Dr. Proctor Space exploration has been slowly progressing but now we are entering into a new space era that will enable a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive group of individuals to participate. It’s important to celebrate the beginning but exciting to look toward the future of where we are going.
The purpose of the Inspiration4 mission was to bring the first all-civilian crew to orbit and, in the process, raise 200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
How can more people learn about space?
More people can learn about space by watching the Netflix documentaries Countdown and Return to Space. They do a great job of capturing the excitement and future of human spaceflight.
Your motto is Space2inspire. Can you elaborate please?
Space2inspire is all about getting individuals to recognize their unique, one of a kind space. The space they enhabit and how they can use their unique space to inspire those within their reach and beyond. So it is about self-empowerment.
You believe that we need to actively strive for a J.E.D.I. space: that is a just, equitable, and inclusive space?
If space is truly for everyone then we need to begin to make decisions that reflect this. We need to make sure that access to space opens up to people from all different locations, backgrounds, gender, and race. We need to actively pursue this endeavor now because the foundation of humanity in space is being designed right now as we push to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
How do you set aside time to create space art?
I am an afrofuturism artist so I like to create art through the lens of women of color in space. I combine my art with poetry so that people can both be inspired by the art but also gain deeper meaning with the words.
What physical/mental resources does it require?
I think the key is that we go into our spaceflight missions with an understanding of the greater good that can come from them and that our primary role is to be a good crewmate. Both physically and mentally you have to stay in good shape to be able to handle the rigors of training and the actual spaceflight (we’re motivated to do so because we want to fly in space – not only for the ‘adventure’ of it, but to be a part of the important work that’s going on there).