Aviation for Women

JAN-FEB 2018

Aviation for Women is the flagship member publication of Women in Aviation International. Articles feature women who have made aviation history, professional development ideas, and current-topic articles.

Issue link: https://afwdigital.epubxp.com/i/915381

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Page 28 of 52

26 AviationforWomen J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8 she went to work for Pratt & Whit- ney Engines in West Palm Beach, Florida, as a structural design en- gineer. She loved the job—as she did all the jobs she had as well as a ll t he people she ever worked with—but she discovered what she was doing wasn't what she wanted to do long-term. "It became very clear to me that I needed to be doing something where I had my hands on the hard- ware, and where the operations of what I was working on was visible to me," she says. A ye a r later, Ken nedy Space Center (KSC) was hiring again, and Nicole started work there as an operations engineer in the Or- biter Processing facilit y — get- ting the shuttle ready for f lying again after the Challenger disas- ter grounded them. "It was desti- ny," she says. "I knew it was where I was supposed to be the day I got there. It just felt right." During her time at KSC, Nicole held a variety of positions, including shuttle flow director for Endeavor, orbiter project engineer for Colum- bia, and NASA convoy command- er for shuttle landings. She also served as the liaison between the California facility and KSC for the space station's big-truss element hardware. "That was so cool—to see these things on the ground and then later in my life, I'm climbing around on them in space. It was just really very surreal," she says. W hile she was enjoying all of these jobs, she still didn't think about the astronaut job as a job she could do. Until, that is, she started seeing astronauts coming through and what they were doing at the time — which wa s not f lying in space. To her, it looked a lot like the job she was already doing. Speaking to a few colleagues she considered men- tors, they encouraged her to apply. "It took the encour- agement of other people for me to even consider that," she says, looking back. "But I will say, I'm also very thankful that nobody ever told me I couldn't do it. And I think that's a big deal. I see women and kids being told they can't do things, and that's completely unac- ceptable—I never had anybody tell me that, but I never really had the confidence in myself." Nicole wasn't selected the first time she applied to become a n astronaut, and says she honest- ly didn't expect to, but "enjoyed t he whole experience a ny way." The next job offered was at John- son Space Center in Houston, fly- ing on the shuttle training air- craft and training astronauts how to land the shuttle. "For a person who loves flying—for flying was the inspiration in all of it—to now be able to work on the space shut- tle program—f lying really cool airplanes, training people—it just seemed almost unreal." Two years later, she applied again to be an astronaut and was select- ed. "For sure, the time in space was a highlight," she says. "Working with the crews and ground teams on those missions was overwhelm- ingly humbling, impressive, better than you ever think it will be. But all in all, I think that from day one until I retired, I loved every single thing I did." How did art and painting enter the picture? When Nicole was get- ting ready to fly the first time, a colleague on the ground team re- minded her that she was going to be living in space for three months. It was suggested she could take a small bag of personal items and something she would like to do while up in space. A lt hough she had no for ma l training as an artist, she had always enjoyed art, woodworking, and painting. "That's when I decided to bring up a small water color kit … and if I could find the time, I would try to paint while I was there," she says. Since it took her a few days, Ni- cole only painted one picture. "Of course, you can't sit in front of the window and paint what you want to paint because you're just moving too fast to get it done," she says, adding she then printed out a picture of what she wanted to paint to take with her. This made her the first astronaut to paint what she saw out the window. "Nobody had ever painted "I reall believe if ou are passionate about something, that's when the opportunities show up, and ou get surrounded the people who are excited about that too." Nicole loves to paint the endless expanses of tropical waters with the blues and turquoises (top) or the view of a sunset (bottom) from space. PHOTOS COURTESY OF NASA ART WORK BY NICOLE STOT T

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