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Meet five brilliant women from NASA paving the way for the future of space exploration

Twenty-eight years later, my feet are firmly on the ground, working as a journalist and presenter live at BBC 5. But I got a thrill – and the same goose bumps I felt as a kid – returning to NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

This time it was about to see a launch pad and one of the newest spacecraft. Climb into an International Space Station training model and marvel at the prospect of the real thing projected on giant screens at Mission Control in Texas. The room is still addictive.

The best bit? Encounters with women who, unlike me, made these childhood dreams of working in the space industry a reality. Each year in the UK, 50,000 fewer women than men are qualified to equip them for a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Anna Foster at the Kennedy Space Center as a child © NASA

Even at the age of 16, girls move away from studying so-called MINT subjects. They need role models like these – bright, smart, brilliant women who have followed their dreams into orbit.

Women like Karen Nyberg, NASA's 50th astronaut, told me how she had dreamed of going to the moon. No one has started since 1972, and now the focus is on getting people to Mars.

Women like Gioia Massa, the plant-crazy biologist who works to produce fresh food in weightlessness under the colored growth lights, calls her her "disco" and makes sure it tastes good.

Women like Emily Nelson, a flight director, sit in the executive chair at Mission Control and make one of the most complicated space projects ever created – the ISS – runs smoothly.

And women like Allison McIntyre, whose incredible office looks out onto a huge hangar full of spacecraft models, where astronauts from all over the world train for their journey into space. She hopes that one day, when the first humans reach Mars, a woman will take the first small step into the red planet to mark a giant leap for humanity.

The women of NASA inspired me. I bet they also inspire you.


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