Monday, November 16, 2009

Atlantis launch today brings Nicole a day nearer to coming home

CLEARWATER - Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch today and return Clearwater astronaut Nicole Passonno Stott and six crewmates back to Earth on the day after Thanksgiving.

Stott, as all our blog readers know, is on her first mission in space, has spent the last three months at the International Space Station on a mission to deliver equipment and gather materials from various experiments.

Members of the Passonno family of Clearwater have seen her more often during these past three months than they normally do, watching her on NASA television or in other reports about the mission. Nicole lives in Houston with her husband, Chris and 7 year-old son, Roman. Stott, 46, calls her mother, Joan Passonno, weekly from the space station. Passonno said the family missed one of Stott's first calls from space.

"She left a message, and the end of it was, 'Well, it would be great if I knew how to hang this thing up.'" Stott's sisters said they are in awe of their older sibling. "She is really cool,'' Krol said. "I mean, she's serious, she's smart, she's funny. She's a risk-taker; she's a daredevil."

Stott graduated from Clearwater High School in 1980, studied aeronautical engineering at Embry-Riddle University and graduated in 1987. She went to work for NASA in 1988, earned a master's degree in engineering management from the University of Central Florida in 1992 and entered the astronaut training program in 2000.

Stott's mission is somewhat history-making as she is the first mother to become a member of a space station crew.

Stott's mother said her daughter inherited her father's love of flying. They built experimental aircraft together in the family garage. Her father, Fred, died in 1979 when the experimental plane he was flying crashed into a canal near Lake Tarpon. Her father's death did not deter her from becoming a pilot, though.

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