CLEARWATER — After two space missions and nearly three decades with NASA, retired astronaut Nicole Stott is taking on a new frontier: modern art.
Fighting off the temptation to once again venture beyond the sky, the lure of another space flight and the promise of being at the top of the list for the next assignment weren't enough. The astronaut and her family made a decision.
"Where we were as a family, it made sense not to pursue something like that again," Stott, a Clearwater native, said.
Stott decided she would devote the rest of her time to crafting artistic renderings of images she captured in outer space.
Besides, she said, embarking on this new creative opportunity would allow for opportunities to shine light from a different perspective on the things that were happening in space.
It was time, she said.
"I think it's something you have to move from to something else. Something you're passionate about. Something you enjoy," Stott said. "I think I'm at the point where doing something different will be more valuable."
The works, which will adopt a "new media" approach, consist of creative manipulations of digital photographs. Stott said she wants to use her artwork as a vehicle to educate students about careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
These artworks, Stott said, afford her the opportunity to educate students and others about the wonders of space, science and technology.
Throughout her career, as she was discovering her artistic style, Stott maintained a network of "creative, artistic" techies she said will be instrumental in her advocacy efforts.
"I'll get to continue to have the relationships with these same people that I've worked with for almost 30 years," the 52-year-old said.
If all goes according to Stott's plan, her work will be featured in physical galleries across the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere. But right now, this is an undertaking that is still in the prototype phase.
Stott worked in several capacities as an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center and later at Houston's Johnson Space Center before she was selected as an astronaut in 2000.
"Nothing she'll ever do will surprise me," said Jay Honeycutt, a close friend of Stott's. "She'll do just as good at this job as she had in the previous jobs."
Honeycutt, who worked with Stott at the Kennedy Space Center, was the director at the time he retired from NASA in 1997.
"Most people that know her won't be surprised," he said.
Being in space, Honeycutt said, is an experience that places things in your mind that you're constantly looking for ways to express.
Stott remembers the dreams of flying and floating before she was even in space. She remembers the feeling of knowing that her planet was miles behind her after bursting through the exosphere. She remembers yearning for her family to be there by her side as she saw Earth from afar.
"I think they take a really physical and emotional experience from it," Stott said. "You can't deny either one of those."
These creative tendencies are something that have always been a part of Stott, said her mother, Joan Passonno.
"She has always been an artsy-crafty kind of person, so that may have been the start of it," she said. "She's always had that there. It's just coming out in a different way now."
Stott is attempting to showcase the beauty of these pictures, she said, in a way that will get people thinking about what it is we would see from space.
"There's a back story to every picture," Stott said.