Former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott speaks at a Daughters of the American Revolution luncheon at East Lake Woodlands Country Club on Monday, October 19, 2015.
Rule number one of being a journalist is to always remain impartial.
But occasionally, that rule is broken.
This reporter was guilty of being a little, well, star struck recently, when I had the opportunity to meet former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott.
Stott, who spent 28 years working for NASA, was the featured speaker at a luncheon for the Caladesi chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at East Lake Woodlands Country Club on October 19.
The Clearwater High graduate had a rapt audience — yes, myself included — for her presentation, which featured a slideshow of photos highlighting a career that included two missions aboard the Space Shuttle and more than 100 days spent living and working on the International Space Station.
Photo of Nicole Stott as a NASA astronaut.
“I love coming and speaking to groups where people may not have an interest in the space program or what we’ve done with the International Space Station, or with international relations,” Stott said to the crowd, which included STEM teachers and students from East Lake High School’s Academy of Engineering
“I think to open up to new audiences about the really wonderful things that are going on, that’s even better for all of us.”
For more than an hour, Stott showcased a variety of incredible photographs from space, many of which she took herself.
But as mesmerizing as the photos were, it was Stott’s vivid, detailed recollections of her experiences as an astronaut were even more awe-inspiring than the photos.
One example was the story she told about making her first space flight after years of traveling all over the world for training.
Nicole Stott speaks at a Daughters of the American Revolution luncheon.
“Then one day, you get finally get to launch, and I can tell you, nothing prepares you for what that is going to feel like,” she said. “You know you are going someplace fast, and you just hope you’re going to the right place!”
“And then, you’re in space. So you went from the launch pad to orbiting Earth in a little over eight minutes,” she added. “And you can’t wait to get out of your seat and find out what your body feels like in zero-gravity. It’s incredible.”
From hanging around the Clearwater Airpark with her father when she was a young girl to “bathing” in zero-gravity, Stott effortlessly conveyed what it’s like to dream about reaching for the stars at an early age and then having the dedication, drive and desire to see that dream come true.
Astronaut Nicole Stott and Caladesi DAR Vice Regent Cheryl Renneckar.
Following her presentation, Stott answered questions from the audience, which included how much her space suit weighed? (“250 pounds, but nothing in space!”); will we go back to the moon? (“Yes”); and how realistic is the new movie, the Martian? (Very. But Gravity? Not so much).
After receiving a couple of awards from Caladesi DAR Vice Regent Cheryl Renneckar, including the chapter’s first ever “Women in American History” award, Stott signed autographed photos of her in her flight suit and posed for pictures with a roomful of new fans.
“I’ve heard 7 or 8 astronauts speak, and she’s a different breed,” Marie Hill, a teacher at the STEM magnet school Jamerson Elementary in St. Pete, said.
“She explains the human side of her experiences and adds in artistic thoughts that make me examine where I live.”
“She was awesome, very inspiring,” Annaklara Doel, a student in the East Lake academy’s aerospace engineering program, said. “Now it’s even more of a motivation for me to continue with the program.”
“She made you really want to follow your dream and made you think you could,” Briana Dentry added.
Astronaut Nicole Stott poses with members of East Lake High School’s Academy of Engineering.
Once the banquet room cleared out, I put my journalist hat back on and asked Stott, who now resides in Houston and is currently exploring her natural artistic talent, if she believes her new mission is to inspire others, like the East Lake students.
“I think so,” she replied. “I feel I have an obligation to do that.”
“I think I’ve recognized that what people want to hear is about the human side of space travel, to be able to relate to it. I think mine is a story about human beings, and that’s what space flight comes down to — how do humans in space relate to people here on Earth?”