Why on Earth (ha!) would you give up your astronaut job to be an artist?

That’s a question I’ve had a lot over the past year since retiring from NASA and the astronaut office. Believe me it was a difficult decision to make --- the retiring from the astronaut office part, not the artist part.

I still pinch myself every day that by some act of God (really!) I was selected to be an astronaut. In fact, I pinch myself every day that I was blessed to do any and all of the incredible jobs I had with NASA and to work with all of the incredible people there over the past 28 years. I had the opportunity to live my dream. And just like the actual flying in space part, it all was so much better than I could have ever imagined (and I had very high expectations for it all).

So…. About 2 years ago I was feeling like I needed to figure out what my next adventure in life was going to be. Part of the figuring involved answering what seems like a simple question, but isn’t! “Is it important for me to fly in space again?” Let me just say that when you ask yourself that question – especially after you know what an awesome and life-changing experience flying in space is – that is a really difficult question to make eye contact with! I was in line to fly in space again. My next flight assignment would not have been too far off in the grand scheme of flight assignments. I did a great job on my previous 2 spaceflights and know I would do well on another. I truly believe that the work we do in space is valuable and worth doing. But… was it important for ME to fly in space again? When I was finally able to address the answer to that difficult question in a simple and honest way, the answer was simply and honestly no. Big step!

Now I had to address the question from the standpoint of the work I was doing in the astronaut office, which I also believe is very important and critical to supporting the people and hardware we have flying in space now and to the hardware we’re designing for the future. And by the way, 99.9% of an astronaut’s job is the work we are doing right here on the ground, not actually time flying in space. This question was a little easier to answer, primarily because I knew that even outside of the astronaut office I could still interface with the program in a way that could add value and positively influence things. And, there would still be a lot of really great people still working there ;)

Then from a purely selfish standpoint, I had to be comfortable with the fact that retiring from NASA and the astronaut office would also mean that I wouldn’t be flying in T38 jets anymore, I wouldn’t be diving in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab anymore, I wouldn’t be flying robotic arms or crawling around the ISS in beautiful VR simulators anymore, and I wouldn’t be working every day side-by-side with some of the most talented people I have ever met anymore.

In parallel and significant to how I answered all of these questions was where my family fit into it all. Bottom line, my family and I were at a point where the greater good would come from me finding the next adventure. It has been a wonderful decision!

The artist part was easy. Art is something that has been part of my life all along. I even had the opportunity to paint in space. Art was the most personal and logical and unique and broadest possible way I that could imagine for sharing the spaceflight experience.

So here’s what I meant by ‘the artist part was easy’. I absolutely did not mean in any way, shape or form that being an artist is easy. In fact, you won’t find a stronger voice than mine arguing that it is the total opposite. Being an artist is really difficult (and I would also argue pretty scary). It is difficult on so many levels, and that’s without even addressing the “does talent exist or not” question!

I have always considered myself an artist. I have always enjoyed creating pieces of art in many different forms to share with my family and friends. I have always enjoyed trying new artistic things like woodworking and painting and beading and photography… And I’ve always enjoyed the response I receive in return for these gifts of art. Really feeling like there was joy received both ways.

As I mentioned in blog 1 of 4 of this series, the shift from astronaut to artist is the best way I’ve discovered to fulfill the obligation I feel to share the overwhelmingly impressive experience I was blessed to have living and working and flying in space.

I think every astronaut will tell you that one of, if not the highlight, of flying in space is the opportunity to experience our beautiful planet from a totally new perspective.

Hence, my “eARTh from space” theme. It is very important to me to share the beauty, the art of our planet, the significance of our place on it, and our obligation to take care of it and each other. That painting I made on the ISS was the real inspiration for me. It was a simple watercolor painting of one of the endless beautiful places on our planet. I have worked with this same subject for my paintings several times now – smaller and larger formats, paintings and mixed media embellishments. I’m trying hard through my own interpretation of the view out the window to present the clarity and translucence and brilliance and color and life of our planet that I actually saw with my own eyes and that always seems to be dulled in the images. This is also why I’ve chosen the particular oil paints I use. For every photograph I took from space that I am now choosing to paint, I hope that sense of color and life I was blessed to see comes through in the painting.

Following are a couple examples of the inspiration image and the painting:

“The Wave”

 NicoleStott3a  NicoleStott3b
 NicoleStott3c  NicoleStott3d  NicoleStott3e

(L to R, clockwise) Isla los Roques, Venezuela; watercolor painting made during ISS Expedition 21 (5”x7”); Earth Observation Collection – Mixed media/oil on metal (20”x24”) (24”x36”) (2”x3”)

“Christmas Island”

 NicoleStott3f  NicoleStott3g

(L to R) Christmas Island, Kirimati, Line Islands; Earth Observation Collection – Oil on high gloss paper (8”x10”).



 NicoleStott3h  NicoleStott3i  NicoleStott3j

(L to R) Bahamas, Tongue of the Ocean; Earth Observation Collection – Oil painting on high gloss paper (4”x4”), Oil and mixed media on high gloss paper (2”x2”).


 NicoleStott3k  NicoleStott3l

(L to R) Lake Soutpan, South Africa; Earth Observation Collection – Oil/Acrylic on high gloss paper (4”x6”).

 NicoleStott3m  NicoleStott3n

“Pink Flower” (L to R) Lake Eyre National Park, Australia (salt lake); Earth Observation Collection – Mixed media/oil on metal (20”x24”).

“Soyuz over South Africa”

 NicoleStott3o  NicoleStott3p

(L to R) Soyuz over South Africa; Commission piece – Oil on metal (20”x30”).

“Red Sea Dancer”

 NicoleStott3q  NicoleStott3r

(L to R) Dahlek Archipelago, Red Sea; Oil on high gloss paper (4”x6”).

Spacefest 7 Exhibit --- My first real exposure to all of the wonderful artists of the IAAA. Really great experience! Looking forward to Spacefest 8.


I would also like to provide an update on The Space Suit Art Project. Last week we had a wonderful event at JSC Mission Control with several artists/children from the MD Anderson Cancer Center who helped paint the suits and with astronaut Kate Rubins wearing the Courage suit on the ISS. Very special. The first art exhibit on ISS! Following is a link to the replay of the event:


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