Nicole Stott. Credit: Viking Cruises

Nicole’s next adventure: the space flight veteran spills the beans

Author: Vicky Mayer

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Retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, godmother to new ship Viking Neptune, on space travel, weightless painting and why she loves cruises.

How did you become an astronaut?
As a child I spent considerable time at the airport where my dad loved building and flying small planes. It was here that I developed a fascination for not only flying, but for the mechanics of flying.

I also grew up in Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Centre. I loved witnessing the rocket launches. All this sparked my desire at a young age to learn how things fly and to work for NASA someday. As soon as I graduated from college I immediately applied to NASA.

To start with, my interest was focused on the space shuttle programme and preparing the rockets. It wasn’t until after 10 wonderful years as a NASA engineer that my mentors encouraged me to apply to become an astronaut and my new path began.

I understand you trained underwater as an aquanaut – how does this work?
We trained in the Aquarius Undersea Habitat, which is an underwater laboratory off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. In preparation for going on long missions, NASA would send us to complete missions on Aquarius in the extreme environment of 'inner space', which was absolutely the best analog to living and working in outer space (on the International Space Station (ISS)).

We also did spacewalk training in a pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) which had a mockup of the space station inside it. The NBL is 200 foot long, 100 feet wide and 40 feet deep. We trained in the NBL in real (300 lb) space suits which in combination with gravity and the drag of the water was very physically challenging.

Viking named its newest ship in a ceremony held in Los Angeles, with the help of Nicole. Credit: Viking

Tell us about your two spaceflights - were they discovery flights?
Yes, both times I flew to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery. On my first flight the STS-128 crew spent two weeks with me on the space station before leaving me there to work for three months, before returning home with the STS-129 crew on Space Shuttle Atlantis.

A year later I flew on the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-133. I feel honoured to have been part of these experiences and to have spent a total of 104 days living and working in space - where all the work we do is ultimately about improving life on earth. So yes, I guess you could say they were both flights of discovery.

Were you nervous on the first launch?
I wouldn’t describe myself as nervous – definitely respectful of where I was and what I was about to do - but there had been so much preparation and work that had gone into the launch.

If anything, my nerves were more directed towards the feelings my family would be having as they watched me go. It's definitely more difficult to watch someone you love launch into space than it is to be the person strapping in to do it.

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What inspired your combined love for space and painting?
I'm thankful to my parents for sharing what they loved with me, which definitely led to my lifelong love of art and space. When I was preparing for my first spaceflight, my friend reminded me that I would have some free time while in space and suggested I should consider packing an activity I enjoy.

I decided that I would take my watercolour kit, and painting in space brought me so much joy. I have since also founded a charity which combines these passions called the Space for Art Foundation which helps bring the unifying inspiration of space and art together for children around the world.

How difficult is it to paint with watercolours in space?
It wasn't really difficult, just different and fun. Everything floats in space, so painting becomes more about using the paint brush to drag coloured balls of water along the paper versus touching the brush to the paper.

If the brush touches the paper the coloured ball of water goes onto the paper and spreads everywhere. You have to develop a totally different technique.

Viking Neptune is equipped with a small hydrogen fuel system. Credit: Viking

What does being godmother of Viking Neptune mean to you?
It is an honour and privilege to be the godmother of the new Viking Neptune ship. As someone who has been blessed to explore space, the ocean, and some of the otherworldly places on our planet, I understand the importance of broadening one’s horizons through travel. I am very excited for all those who will journey around the world on Viking Neptune.

What sort of cruises do you like to go on?
I was invited on the Viking Orion for its first sailing in 2018. I had never been a cruise person before venturing on the Viking Orion, but after that, I couldn’t wait to sail again.

We sailed a shortened Mediterranean itinerary calling in at Pisa and Barcelona. I enjoyed the concept of waking up in a new place every day with the opportunity to explore the awe and wonder that surrounded us right there on our doorstep.

To find out more about Nicole tune into Viking.TV on 7 February.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.