Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At Clearwater Airpark, an emotional return for astronaut Nicole Stott

NASA astronaut Nicole Stott is welcomed to the Clearwater Airpark Saturday by pilot and family friend Arnold Allen, 95.


NASA astronaut Nicole Stott is welcomed to the Clearwater Airpark Saturday by pilot and family friend Arnold Allen, 95.

CLEARWATER — Returning to the place where she learned to love flying, Clearwater astronaut Nicole Passonno Stott fought back tears Saturday as she stood before an adoring crowd at Clearwater Airpark.

"If there was one place I was going to come back to, this was certainly going to be it," she said. And if there was one place that's going to make me cry, this is it."

Stott made her first public appearance in the Tampa Bay area since spending three months aboard the International Space Station last year, as officials named her an ambassador of the airpark.

It was an emotional ceremony for the 47-year-old Clearwater High School graduate because the little airpark on Hercules Avenue was home to her and her family as she grew up.

"My dad spent a lot of time out here building airplanes and flying airplanes, which I'm very thankful for because he shared that with us," Stott said.

Her father, Fred Passonno, mother Joan and Stott and her two sisters often came to the airport while dad tinkered with airplanes and the girls made a hangar their playground.

"My first memory here is my baby blanket blowing away down the runway and my dad's friend chasing after it," said Stott's sister, Shelly Rocktoff. "It was a dirt runway back then."

Those days were "the start of all of this for me," Stott said, referring to her life as a pilot and astronaut. The airpark gives her "great memories of my family, my father and what he shared with us."

Her father, still remembered as an expert pilot and aircraft builder, died in 1979 when an experimental aircraft he was flying crashed into a canal on the west side of Lake Tarpon. Stott was in high school at the time.

His memorial plaque sits at the base of the airpark's flagpole.

Arnold Allen, a 95-year-old family friend who still builds airplanes, said he wasn't surprised Stott chose to continue with airplanes in spite of the tragedy. "She was too interested in flying," he said.

The memory of Fred Passonno and his love of flying are still strong in the family.

Stott's sister, Noelle Krol, showed a tattoo on her ankle with a sun emblem she remembers from the tail of one of her father's planes.

Asked if the day was at all bittersweet because her father couldn't be there to enjoy it, Rocktoff said no.

Rocktoff, 46, who has a Tarpon Springs hair salon, said she has good memories of trekking to the airpark with mom and dad. Now it's come full circle, with Rocktoff making more visits to the airpark to be with her sister.

"It always brings me joy to come to this airpark," Rocktoff said. Her 5-year-old son, Chase, got into the spirit of the day, wearing an orange astronaut "commander suit" and saying he would like to fly into space also.

Stott, who is married and has a son, graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Central Florida, and launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in August. She stayed on the International Space Station for three months, and returned to Earth on the shuttle Atlantis in November. She will deliver the St. Petersburg College commencement address this week.

Stott is scheduled to return to space on another shuttle mission that could launch in September. It may be the last launch of the space shuttle program.

During her first mission, Stott said, "It was huge to me to see the excitement coming from this local area while I was on orbit."

Stott presented the airpark with a few mementos, including a photo montage expressing thanks for supporting the International Space Station.

"Thanks for your excitement about the mission," she said to the crowd, "and for always inviting me back to visit."

Curtis Krueger can be reached at or (727) 893-8232.

At Clearwater Airpark, an emotional return for astronaut Nicole Stott 05/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 9:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lost Highway: As FHP struggles to recruit, speeding tickets plummet

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The number of speeding tickets written by Florida state troopers has plunged three straight years as the agency grapples with a personnel shortage and high turnover.

    A Florida Highway Patrol Academy class in the late 1980s. Typically, graduating classes had about 80 recruits. But the most recent class has less than half that as the agency continues to struggle to fill vacancies. [

Florida: Highway Patrol]
  2. Kidpreneurs — and adults — capitalize on gooey, squishy Slime craze


    First it was Play-Doh. Then Gak. There have been dozens of variations for sale of the oozy, gooey, squishable, stretchable kids' toy through the generations.

    Aletheia Venator and Berlyn Perdomo demonstrate the stretchiness of their slime. - Berlyn Perdomo and her friend, Aletheia Venator, both 13, make and sell slime which can be seen on their instagram site @the.real.slimeshadyy [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  3. After last year's drug-related deaths, Tampa's Sunset Music Festival says it's stepping up safety, security

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Alex Haynes worked three jobs. He had a fiance and an infant son. He owned his own home in Melbourne. Last summer, the 22-year-old attended the Sunset Musical Festival at Raymond James Stadium.

    He left in an ambulance.

    Last year’s Sunset Music Festival was marked by dozens of medical emergencies.
  4. What you need to know for Friday, May 26


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Read this morning why Florida's most prized sweet corn is nearly extinct. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. The last farmer of Florida's prized Zellwood corn is thinking of packing it in


    MOUNT DORA — Hank Scott steps out of his pickup between the long rows and snaps off an ear that grows about bellybutton-high on the forehead-high stalks.

    Hank Scott, co-owner of Long and Scott Farms, shucks an ear of corn on the farm in Mount Dora, Fla., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The farm specializes in Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times