By Kevin Schindler, Lowell Historian

As Lowell Observatory Director Jeff Hall has explained, the mission of Lowell Observatory can be distilled down to this – communicating science. Our scientists explore the universe and communicate their findings to colleagues around the world, while our educators share the excitement of this science with the public. A key ingredient of this effort is inspiration – the inspiration to wonder, the inspiration to learn, the inspiration to explore and discover. 

The I Heart Pluto Festival’s signature event—the Night of Discovery—celebrates this very inspiration. And Astronaut Nicole Stott, keynote speaker of this year’s Night of Discovery, perfectly sets the tone.

A Florida native, Stott studied aviation administration and engineering management in college, graduating with a B.S. from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an M.S. from the University of Central Florida. Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000, she twice lived on the International Space Station (ISS), spending a total of 104 days in space. Part of her training involved living undersea for 18 days on the Aquarius undersea research habitat. While on the ISS, she became the first person to paint in space and participated in the first live tweet-up from space.

During her time above—and below—the surface of Earth, Stott saw the world in a much different way. This galvanized her to a life’s mission of sharing her observations with people around the world in the hopes of inspiring them to wonder, explore for themselves, and be active stewards for the good of our home planet. 

One of Stott’s most impactful—in fact, life-altering—experiences of space travel was gazing out the window of the ISS at Mother Earth, seeing the entire world from the outside as a tiny outpost in space. This “Earthrise Moment” (as first experienced by the Apollo 8 Moon mission in 1968), really struck Stott. Sure, she knew that we live on a planet, but to see that planet from space, with the knowledge that all life as we know it exists together on that tiny world, was eye-opening. From that vantage point, life on the planet is not male or female, black or white, Democrat or Republican, American or Chinese, or even human or non-human. We are all simply Earthlings, and we’re highly dependent on each other for survival. From that perspective, political and other contrived borders don’t matter. The only line that really matters to all life on Earth is the thin blue ribbon of our atmosphere. 

Stott’s epiphanous Earthrise Moment, and subsequent observations from space, inspired her to take action and communicate the need to work together as Earthlings to take care of our fragile planet. For instance, she co-founded the Space for Art Foundation with the goal of “uniting a planetary community of children through the awe and wonder of space exploration and the healing power of art”. 

Stott travels around the world (these days this travel is on, not above Earth) sharing her experiences from space, inspiring people young and old to be aware of the world around them and to actively take care of it. Don’t be a passenger on Spaceship Earth, she encourages, be a crew member.

Astronaut/aquanaut/space artist Nicole Stott is the keynote speaker for the Night of Discovery, the cornerstone event of the Fourth Annual I Heart Pluto Festival. The Night of Discovery takes place on February 18 at the Orpheum Theater. Doors open at 6pm and the program begins at 7pm. Afterward, Stott will sign copies of her book, Back to Earth. For ticket information, see