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Anniversaries & Memories of My 1st Space Adventure

Saturday was the 1 year anniversary of the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery and her STS128 crew (and also, coincidentally, the 10 year anniversary of the day the class of 2000 astronauts arrived to Houston for astronaut training).  This was the beginning of my first trip to space.  I couldn’t have asked for better crew mates to share this adventure with: CJ, Kevin, Pat, Jose, Danny &
Christer.  Thanks guys!

I was blessed with the opportunity to spend 91 days living and working in space on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (Expeditions 20 &
21).  Again, the people I spent this time with on ISS (Mike, Gennady, Bob, Frank, Roman, Max, Jeff &
Guy) and later returning to Earth with on the shuttle Atlantis STS129 (Charlie, Butch, Bobby, Leland, Mike &
Randy), were amazing.  We were busy with space walks, robotics, science, visiting spacecraft, and maintaining the ISS, and we had a great time!

So thought I’d share a little walk I’m taking down memory lane with you.  The following are a series of blogs I made prior to and during the mission.

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[#1] Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

2000

2009

Hi. My name is Nicole Passonno Stott.  At 46 years old, I’m a mother, I’m a wife, and I’m a NASA astronaut who’s about to make her first space flight. I’m writing this blog to try and share some of my experiences preparing for the flight and then once on orbit I hope there will be some surprising things to share with you about living and working in space.

Like so many things in life, this job has proven for me that time really does fly when you’re having fun. It was a “mere” 9 years ago that I received the exciting news that I had been selected as a member of the NASA Astronaut Class of 2000. I found myself very fortunately with 16 other people that would make up the 18th group of NASA astronauts.

Flying in space is most certainly the goal of any astronaut, but what you have to accept is that no matter how quickly you get assigned to your first space flight you are ultimately going to spend the majority of your time as an astronaut working here on the planet. Fortunately, the work and training is all very cool, and has been filled with challenges and opportunities to experience things that I’m pretty certain wouldn’t have been possible for me otherwise.

The pictures above are my year 2000 and year 2009 astronaut portraits. I haven’t changed a bit….☺ The past 9 years have been fun and the time has flown by. Along the way my husband and I have been blessed with a beautiful son, I have visited places around the world that I never imagined I would ever have the chance to see, and we have made some lifelong friends.  And now, to top it off, I’m going to have the amazing opportunity to fly in space --- launching this summer on the Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-128, living and working for 4 months as a crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS), and then returning to Earth on the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-129.


[#2]  The Bugz -- It takes all kinds

The NASA Astronaut Class of 2000 "The Bugz" -- the 18th class of NASA astronauts.

Our class name is “the Bugz” (the name has several origins: the class before you gets to name you / year 2000 and the millennium bug / bugs actually fly / it’s better than maggots….)

We all received the phone call on July 20, 2000 – the anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. This year we’ll celebrate two important anniversaries – 9 years since the Bugz became astronauts and 40 years since Neil and Buzz took those first historic steps on the moon.

“AsCan” (short for Astronaut Candidate) is what you’re called when you’re first selected to the Astronaut Office and while you’re going through the initial training. Then one day, a year or so after you’re selected and when you’ve successfully completed the initial training, you earn the title Astronaut – which is way cool because it’s even before you actually fly in space.

We have a great class that is made up of really interesting people from all different backgrounds – military test pilots and flight engineers, submariner, oceanographer, geophysicist, medical doctor, and aerospace engineers.

The picture above was taken at the same time as our official class photo – this is the fun shot (that’s me in the front row, second from the left). It represents the beginning of an amazing adventure for the Bugz. When I look at this picture, it always brings a smile to my face because the look on everyone’s face is very telling of each and every personality. It has been such a pleasure getting to know all of these people.

I’m convinced that it’s more than just your work and educational background that helps make you a good astronaut candidate (I’m thankful to the selection committee for recognizing this too). This is especially evident when you find out that aside from the diverse work backgrounds of all these people, it’s even more interesting to learn about the diverse and fun interests everyone has outside of work. Who would have known that great astronauts are also made up of an almost professional water skier, excellent dancers (one even does a good river dance), comedians, carpenters, private pilots and flight instructors, baseball coaches, Sunday school teachers, artists, big game hunter, marathon runners, seamstress, NASCAR fans, sailors, auto mechanics, gardeners, cooks, mountain climbers, musicians, golfers, photographers, astronomers…..

So it seems it really does take all kinds. One of the main things that is reinforced through all of our AsCan training, and then continues through our mission specific training, is the importance of teamwork. Your crew is your team. Everyone has particular strengths and weaknesses, and you have to learn to take advantage of these in order to successfully complete your mission. Many times the interests that we have and the skills we’ve developed outside of work are the things that not only make us the people that we are, but also help us add the most value to our team.


[#3]  The Little Things

Saving the turtle

We’re wrapping up our week of quarantine and looking forward to launch in a couple days. In preparation for our scheduled launch time of 1:35 in the morning, we have been sleep shifting -- with a pretty tough sleep shift going to bed at 7 am and getting up at 3 pm. Most of our time in quarantine is spent organizing our procedures and support materials for the flight, exercising, and thankfully having the chance to relax a little before launch. Today, as a crew, we had the opportunity to spend a couple hours at the beach that’s on the property near the space center. It was a beautiful day.

A few  of my crewmates  were running on the beach and came across an amazing sight ---- about 50 baby turtles had just hatched and were making their way to the ocean. They stood back and watched as all of the little turtles made their way quickly down the beach and toward the water. On their way back they noticed one small turtle alone in the sand and on its back. The rest of us were just a short way down the beach, so they called us to come to down and see the turtle.

Our time at the beach gave us a very special gift - finding a little turtle on the beach that we could help find its way to the water. We all were smiling big as we watched the little turtle swimming out and through the waves. It made me think about how there have already been a lot of little things in preparation for this flight that have meant a lot to me. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most (so I guess they really are the big things)  -  like getting back in touch with old friends, the last hug with my family before going into quarantine, and unexpected things like encounters with a little turtle on the beach.


[#4] Sense of Smell (August 28, 2009)

Discovery at the launch pad ready for our Friday night launch

Waking up today, again to launch morning, following a couple scrubs earlier this week.  After about 2 weeks now in quarantine in crew quarters we have gotten used to the daily routine. We’ve even established some of our own daily events as a crew --- for example, every morning about an hour after breakfast we’ve been going for a crew run. Well, the rest of the crew runs and I ride the bike. My crew mates very kindly tolerate me pedaling along beside them.

This has been a favorite part of my day. A wonderful opportunity to have some relaxed conversation with the crew, time to think about things, and to take in the great outdoors. As an ISS crewmember, I will be living and working on the space station for at least 3 months. So the chance to feel the sea breeze, to enjoy the sunshine, to watch and listen to the birds and the other wildlife around the space center, and most impressively this morning to smell the spicy smell of the freshly mown grass. Funny how these little things make such a big impression when you know you won’t be experiencing them for a while.

I’m really looking forward to the new sights and sounds and smells of life on the ISS --- and I’m happy I’ll have the memories of today’s bike ride to keep in mind as well.


[#5] Launch. 2 Words:  Woo Hoo!!!

Space shuttle Discovery and its seven-member STS-128 crew head toward Earth orbit and rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA

Woo Hoo!! These words were exclaimed by me (maybe multiple times) through the ginormous smile on my face as we left the pad. And oh by the way, you don’t just leave the pad. You get kicked off the pad! The engines light and you feel the rumble, 6 seconds later the solid rocket boosters light and you are literally kicked off the pad and you have no doubt that you are going someplace fast! I have this vivid memory of how deliberate that departure from the launch pad was – all I could think was ‘wow we were sitting snuggly in our seats on the pad and now we are definitely OFF the pad.’  ~2 ½ minutes later when the boosters burn out and fall away it gets much smoother and quieter, and then at ~8 minutes the engines have used all the fuel in the external tank and they stop too. Then you have arrived to zero gravity. Amusing to see your arms and legs start to float up --- and of course anything else that isn’t tied down is floating too. It was a most excellent start to this amazing adventure!


[#6]  A Thank You to My EMU

Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, participates in the STS-128 mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Hopefully this doesn’t sound too wacky, but I would like to say thanks to my EMU for treating me so well during my spacewalk. I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to step outside and spend 6 hours working outside of the comfortable protection of our space station. The vacuum of space is a harsh place and our bodies aren’t built to tolerate it. So, we have special equipment to protect us, to allow us to venture out and work on our space craft. The EMU (extravehicular maneuvering unit) is our special protection during our EVAs (extravehicular activities), i.e. our spacesuit for our space walks. The EMU is our personal spaceship while we’re outside. It supplies us with everything we need to survive in the vacuum of space. Pretty amazing that everything we need to maintain our body temperature and pressure, to breathe, and to stay hydrated is so neatly packed into this suit.

Astronaut Nicole Stott, STS-128 mission specialist, poses for a photo with an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit on the middeck of the Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day three activities. Credit: NASA

And while I’m thanking my EMU, I would also like to thank my 128 crewmates for their amazing support before, during and after our EVA. Danny was an amazing partner and mentor to me, Christer helping us out as he prepared for his spacewalks, Kevin flying me so smoothly on the arm that it felt like the Earth and station and shuttle were the ones moving up to meet me instead of me to meet them, and Jose, Pat and CJ making sure everything was where it should be, providing us with the play-by-play choreography to complete all our tasks, and for safely helping us in and out of the hatch. These guys were all a pleasure to train and fly with!


[#7] Beautiful  Spacecraft

Space Shuttle Discovery and its seven-member STS-128 crew head toward Earth orbit and rendezvous with the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The International Space Station is seen from space shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation. Credit: NASA

We get to and from space in them, they deliver food and supplies to us, they dock to each other, they provide us with everything we need to live in the vacuum of space --- and they are amazingly beautiful. The space shuttle, the space station, the Soyuz, the HTV, and the Progress – these are all the spacecraft I’ve had the opportunity to see while I’ve been here in space.  You can’t look at these vehicles without being impressed, sometimes overwhelmed by how impressive they are.  And the impression is not just from the incredible engineering marvels that they all are or from their size, but it’s also very simply from how incredibly beautiful they each are. There is a shiny, spectacular independence to each of them when you see them hanging so naturally in space, like they were meant to be there with the forces of nature holding them in their place. And as they approach and come into view – starting out first as only a pinpoint of light against the very blackness of space or the backdrop of our glowing, colorful planet and then gradually/quickly transforming into the magnificent, shining, beautiful spacecraft that they are. Awesome!

The Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) approaches the International Space Station. Credit: NASA


[#8] 1/2 Way

Viewed from the Banana River Viewing Site, Space shuttle Discovery and its seven-member STS-128 crew head toward Earth orbit and rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff was on time at 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 28, 2009 from launch pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, participates in the STS-128 mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

GMT290, Already 50 days in space!  Hard for me to believe I’m already past the ½ way point. We have been busy up here. The highlights (an attempt to pick things since everything is so cool up here) for me have been launch, first sighting of the Earth and the space station through the space shuttle windows, crossing the hatch into the space station, the space walk, the arrival of HTV, the indescribably beautiful sights of our planet, and my crewmates. It’s amazing how quickly our bodies adapt to a new environment. There is of course time spent figuring out how to live up here --- finding time every day to talk with my family, eating, going to the bathroom, washing my hair, photography, the best way to float/fly to get around, communicating with mission control, etc, but it quickly becomes second nature and you even forget that walking is a “normal” thing.  This is an awe-inspiring place.

The International Space Station's Canadarm2 grapples the unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) as it approaches the station. Credit: NASA

The STS-128 and Expedition 20 crew members found a few moments to pose for some portraits on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Crew members on the International Space Station pose for a group photo following a joint crew news conference in the Harmony node. Credit: NASA


[#9] The Artwork Out Our Windows

Expedition 20 photo from the International Space Station featuring West lagoon and coral heads of the Isla Los Roques, Venezuela, about 90 miles north of Caracas, Venezuela. Image: NASA

Expedition 20 photo from the International Space Station featuring  clouds over Earth with sun glint. Image: NASA

You can’t (or at least I have never been able to) look at a picture of the Earth from space and not feel a sense of awe.  Well let me just say that this is another case of the picture not doing the reality justice. The Earth, our planet, is indescribably beautiful. It glows like a colorful light bulb. It is placed perfectly against the blackest black I have ever seen.  It simply cannot go unnoticed.  It is calm and it is dynamic.  Sunrise and sunset is witnessed every 45 minutes, with the light or the darkness moving quickly across the horizon in a very colorful way, and each time highlighting the thin line of our fragile atmosphere. Every time I look out one of our windows I am surprised by some new and beautiful discovery.

Expedition 20 photo from the International Space Station featuring “islands” in the northern part of the dry lake bed of Lake Mackay in Western Australia. Image: NASA

Expedition 20 photo from the International Space Station featuring the wavy ocean bottom seen along the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean in the Bahamas. Depth  drops to about 6000 feet,  or approximately 1.8 kilometers, in the Tongue. Image: NASA

Expedition 20 photo from the International Space Station featuring a plume from the Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat Island in the Lesser Antilles, Eastern Caribbean Sea. Image: NASA


[#10]  Loss and Awareness – Our Place and Reason

It’s one of the things you have to prepare yourself for and it’s sometimes not so easy, but life will go on without you back on the planet while you’re living and working in space. We are fortunate now to have several really good means of communication with our family and friends on Earth while we’re off the planet for an extended period of time. We have a “phone” so I can speak to my husband and son every day or make periodic calls to my mom and sisters and other special people;
we have email;
we have weekly video conferences with our family;
and people can even catch a glimpse of us every now and then on the news or NASA TV.

The reality check comes when something happens back home and you can’t physically participate in the way you would really want to help give support to the people you love. So you find the best way you can from the remote position you’re in to try and support. I’m on orbit and my family has lost a dear friend. It is not ideal, but I try to find a way to express the sadness I’m feeling and to take a lesson from the experience I’m having here on ISS.

The following is what I sent to our friend’s family.  I have always been impressed by the life lessons we can learn from the difficult things we are faced with – regardless of where we are.

Sunset

“This really makes me so sad and I’m at a total loss for words other than to tell you how sad this makes me and to let you know that I am thinking of you all and continuing to send my prayers to the whole Vargus/Sullivan family.

I guess the longer we go through life the more we realize that we will have a select few people in our lives that are really and truly special --- these are the people that we consider to be more a part of our family than a lot of our own relatives. It goes without saying that Mrs. Vargus, Auntie Doris was this kind of person to our family.

I have my own distinct memories of Auntie Doris that span every emotion from fear to joy. I have memories of the Boston accent – “get in the cah!” Memories of my mom and Mrs. Davis and Auntie Doris all smoking with their cups of coffee around the kitchen table --- of carpools in the cadillacs --- of the humorous exchanges between her and my dad --- of playing games like Scrabble --- of her total honesty and direct approach --- and most of all of her support and love for my mom and our family.

On the ISS right now, over these few months, I have been blessed with the opportunity to see our planet from a totally different perspective. From every angle it is indescribably beautiful. At the same time it appears blue and calm and peaceful, you can look in a different direction and it is very dynamic and dark and even sad and unpredictable. It is a vantage point that can most certainly lead you to believe that we all might just be insignificant little specs in the grand, universal scheme of things. But having known someone like Auntie Doris and knowing the place she has had in our lives I know that this can’t be true. Instead I believe that what I’m seeing out the windows is this awesome Creation that has been put in the perfect place in the universe, in the perfect place in the solar system, at the perfect distance from the sun, giving us the perfect conditions to survive. And for some short period of time on this perfect planet we are blessed with the opportunity to have friends in our lives like Auntie Doris. I am very thankful to God for His creations and for His very special blessing of sharing Auntie Doris with our family.

Please accept my sincerest and most heartfelt sympathy and my electronic hugs.

With love  -- Nicole”


[#11] It’s Only a Thin Blue Line

Sunset and a Solar Array

It’s still very surreal to me that I am living on the ISS and that I can see our planet from this 200 mile vantage point and circling it once every 90 minutes. And for me, like others before me, I am totally surprised and in awe of the overwhelming, glowing beauty of our planet.  Our Earth glows like a colorful light bulb against the blackest black I’ve ever seen.  Everyday up here I am blessed with the opportunity to spend some time looking out the windows towards home and seeing things I never would have expected. Moving around the planet every 90 minutes, with the orbit slightly shifting and taking us over someplace new, with the sun rising and setting gracefully across the horizon every 45 minutes, the moon brilliantly popping into view and then squishing as it sets into the thin glowing blue line of our atmosphere. I can’t help but look at the Earth and see anything other than this living, beautiful thing, that always seems to be sharing some changing emotion or different side of its personality with me – sometimes very calm and peaceful and other times very dynamic and aggressive, but always silently asking to be taken care of.


[#12]  A Visit to the Barber

Pull out the flo-bee and the scissors and start cutting.  It’s funny how something as simple as a haircut becomes more fun when you’re in space. It’s also interesting to discover the hidden coiffing talents of your crewmates. Stay here long enough and you’re going to need a haircut --  well… unless you’re Gennady.  ;
)

Bob the barber

My crewmates with their fresh haircuts

Gennady


[#13]  Boo!!!

Expedition 21 crew -- Halloween on ISS. Good times!


[#14]  Hometown

Tampa Bay

I grew up in a beautiful, beach town on the west coast of Florida called Clearwater. One of the really fun things to do on orbit is to search for places on Earth that have meaning to you and take pictures of them. This is a picture of the Tampa Bay area of Florida, with Clearwater right there on the coast. The view from space gives you another opportunity to appreciate your hometown. Beautiful!!!


[#15] You Can’t Take Them  With You

I’ve had a little time to reflect on what I’m sure will stack up to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life – the chance to live and work with a crew  as part of a long duration space mission. I had very high expectations of what this experience would be like, and I can honestly say that every expectation I had was exceeded. I can “almost” use the word perfect to describe it – with one big exception:  you can’t take your family with you. I am blessed with a family that has always been supportive of the dream I have of working in space.  I also know how much they would also love the space experience – floating, seeing our planet from that unique perspective, and working to help make life better back here on Earth.  So…. as much as I will miss life in space on the ISS, I am thrilled to be back with my family here on Earth.