DiscoverThe Retirement Wisdom PodcastA Retired Astronaut’s Next Mission – Nicole Stott
A Retired Astronaut’s Next Mission – Nicole Stott

A Retired Astronaut’s Next Mission – Nicole Stott

Update: 2021-12-20


If you’re an astronaut, what can you do for an encore? Nicole Stott, author of Back to Earth: What Life In Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet – And Our Mission To Protect It, found her new mission. And it’s instructive for all Earthlings, not just astronauts. If you’re contemplating a second act or an encore career, the story of how she’s redirected her skills and talents will inspire you. And it may change how you think about how each of us can make a difference in the lives of others.

We discuss:

  • The story of how she became an astronaut

  • What 104 days in space taught her about our planet

  • What it was like to create a painting in space – and how it led to what she’s doing today

  • Her decision to retire from NASA – and her thought process

  • When she first knew that she had found her next mission

  • The work she’s doing with The Space for Art Foundation

  • What needs to be done to address climate change

  • People who inspire her

  • What we can all do as individuals to make a difference

  • The key message of her book Back to Earth

Nicole Stott joins us from Florida.


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Nicole is an astronaut, aquanaut, artist, and mom – and now author of her first book Back to Earth: What Life In Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet – And Our Mission To Protect It. She creatively combines the awe and wonder of her spaceflight experience with her artwork to inspire everyone’s appreciation of our role as crew mates here on Spaceship Earth.

Nicole is a veteran NASA Astronaut with two spaceflights and 104 days living and working in space as a crew member on both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle. Personal highlights of her time in space were performing a spacewalk (10th woman to do so), flying the robotic arm to capture the first HTV, working with her international crew in support of the multi-disciplinary science onboard the orbiting laboratory, painting a watercolor (now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum), and of course the life-changing view of our home planet out the window.

Nicole is also a NASA Aquanaut. In preparation for spaceflight, she was a crew member on an 18-day saturation dive mission at the Aquarius undersea laboratory.

Nicole believes that the international model of peaceful and successful cooperation we have experienced in the extreme environments of space and sea holds the key to the same kind of peaceful and successful cooperation for all of humanity here on Earth.

On her post-NASA mission, she is a co-founder of the Space for Art Foundation — uniting a planetary community of children through the awe and wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art.


For More on Nicole Stott

Back to Earth: What Life in Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet―And Our Mission to Protect It

Space for Art Foundation


Wise Quotes

On Her Decision to Retire

“Well, it was difficult. I think in my heart I knew I was ready to move on and do something different. I was really feeling more and more attracted to sharing the experience and communicating that to as many people as I could and finding my way to do that. And I knew that I really wouldn’t be able to do that while still with NASA. But it was difficult for so many reasons. Number 1, I was in line to fly in space again. I probably would have flown in space again had I not retired. And to take yourself out of that is a difficult thing to do. But I asked myself honestly: Okay, do I need to fly in space again? And the answer was…No. Ask me when I’m 95, I will want to fly in space again, but it wasn’t a need for me. I knew I could still keep in touch with the program and the people there and continue to have some influence as an advisor or working through different companies. And then, I think the other thing was for our family. My son was about to start eighth grade and then was going to be moving on to high school. We knew we weren’t going to want to settle in Houston – that wasn’t going to be our retirement place. We knew Florida was going to be that place. Your kid goes to high school somewhere and that kind of tags you there. But it was a very difficult decision. It was the right one though. I’m so happy that I can say it was the right one. And I feel really good about where we are with it. The things I’m doing now, where my son is, and what he’s doing, my husband’s work –  all of it. I think you know when you get that gut feeling, and the in your heart feeling, you know it’s right. And I’m happy that I can say that it was the right decision.”

On the Space for Art Foundation

“The Space for Art Foundation fell out of those sessions with kids in the hospital and with Ian Cion, who was the artist there. That first session that I told you about, I have a vivid memory of sitting there with this little girl who was going through pediatric cancer treatment at the time and we were painting these little paintings that were going to become part of this larger spacesuit, which is so cool. And she’s going through this, as were all of these kids and their families, in this place. She’s going through what you hope is the worst thing she would ever have to go through in her entire life. And yet we’re sitting there and we’re talking about space exploration and she’s painting. And she’s telling me about what she’s thinking about for her own future. And then out of nowhere, she just looks at me and she’s like ‘You know, Miss Nicole, what you do as an astronaut, that must be a lot like what I’m going through here in the hospital.’ I get goosebumps thinking about it. I’m like, How in the world can this 7 or 8-year-old be comparing what she’s going through to what you know I went through in space?’ And then she just proceeds with: ‘Yeah, you don’t get to see your family and friends the same way. You just can’t go outside anytime you want. You have to eat all different kinds of food. Your body’s changing. They’re doing all kinds of tests on you. I think you have radiation in space.’ All this stuff that was just so beyond her years’ wisdom, right? Just kind of just spewing out of her in an effortless way that reinforced that. I thought, ‘Okay, this is my next mission in life.’ But it also made me know that this was something that needed to be about more than just randomly going and painting with kids in hospitals. And so over time Ian and I, along with a couple of our other partners – one being, ILC Dover, who is the company that makes our real spacesuits – the one I did a spacewalk in, and the ones that the Apollo moonwalkers wore. They volunteered with us from the very beginning to quilt together these art spacesuits from the kid’s artwork. And we just knew it needed to be something that we could take beyond just one hospital in one city. And that’s where the Space for Art Foundation came from.”


Podcast Episodes You May Like

The Future You – Brian David Johnson

When Will You Flip the Switch? – Dr. Barbara O’Neill

Why Retirement is About Much More Than Money – Ted Kaufman & Bruce Hiland

Old in Art School – Nell Painter

The Skill Set for Life’s Transitions – Bruce Feiler

With the Freedom to Retire, Where Will You Plant Your New Tree? – Don Ezra


About Retirement Wisdom

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Thank you to Denis Wuestman, frequent co-host, for his work with Retirement Wisdom. This is his final RW podcast, as he’s “retiring” from Retirement Wisdom to focus on his other pursuits.









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A Retired Astronaut’s Next Mission – Nicole Stott

A Retired Astronaut’s Next Mission – Nicole Stott

Retirement Wisdom