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.
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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Karen Nyberg was given two places, including one on the International Space Station in 2013.
"Just before my Space Shuttle flight, my older sister admitted that she thought it was very sweet that I had said I wanted to be an astronaut I was small!
"When I was selected as an astronaut in 2000, I thought it would be a realistic possibility that we would go to the Moon next, so it is unfortunate that we were not. A woman walking on the moon? It will happen.
"Find what your passion is – as I grew up, my passion was space, then figure out what you need to do to achieve the goal you have.
" Many times I'll find out that math and science and this kind of field will get you there. And they are challenging, I will not lie to you, but reward you when you reach this goal.
"As mentors and educators, we need to figure out how to keep girls in those areas they can access the stars."
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Gioia Massa is the Project Director of the Veggie Lab at the Kennedy Space Center, which focuses on the future production of food as people travel deeper into space.
"When I started, there were very few female role models.
" I was often the only woman in the room, but it never really bothered me. It helps that I do not notice a lot of them, maybe there were things that were discriminating, but I was unaware of them because I was in my own little scientific world!
"The most important thing for me was being stubborn and following your heart, and no one can tell you that you can not do that."
"There were certainly aspects that challenged me, I was not so good at math Like some of my colleagues My handwriting is terrible, so there are things that are not my strength, but when I fell in love with plants, plants were my strength and I really learned and focused on them.
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The senior Boeing engineer Joy Bryant was the first woman that was hired for the Kennedy Space Center launch sites.
"It was spreading on the launch pad that they had hired a woman. The biggest debate was not my qualification, it was – what they would do because there was only one bathroom in the log cabin!
"There was always a guess in meetings that I was the secretary, it got better, but there was always an assumption about my role and position, and when I was asked to bring the coffee, I brought the coffee with … then I start the meeting.
"I would like to see that the next footprint is a lady. I want us to have a chance of success. I do not want to celebrate that it was a woman, I want to celebrate that a woman has chosen and has succeeded.
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Lexi Agreement is a payload engineer for Boeing at Johnson Space Center and looks after the exterior of the space station.
"I come from a different perspective, my mother was a vascular surgeon, I found a picture of her and she was one of only one or two women in their senior year.
"I grew up and thought I could do anything I wanted, making sure that when I was a kid, that I could see other women, I was looking for bookstores for women in pilot seats."
"Me went to a university that was a third of women – I got a lot – significant but sexist questions like "will you be okay there?"
"Know yourself, find out what interests you, concentrate on t hat and forget all the others.
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Misty Snopkowski is an engineer at Nasa's Commercial Crew Program working with Space X at the Kennedy Space Center.
"At school I already knew that I wanted to become an engineer. I like Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was an absolute nerd in high school!
"If you ask a little girl what you want to be when you grow up, you'll never hear 'engineer' because she can not imagine what that means or what a job I was lucky because my dad was an engineer, so I got it.
"My first job was in a maintenance facility in Miami. When the job was offered to me, my manager told me, "Here's a shop with about 200 people, and you'll be the first woman to work here as an engineer, you need to be prepared for that." I did not really understand what that meant.
"The job itself was really exhausting, but I realized I had to work harder than my colleagues, just to make sure I always had the answer.
"I think now it's cool to be completely in math and science and to program, if you do not know how to program, you're not in the cool club, so it's very different now."
"I've never had the desire to become an astronaut – I'm getting a motion sickness really bad – so I'll be the person to help you get up there, but I do not know if I'd ever go up there myself. "
" I would love it if Nasa hires a female administrator, the top honcho in Washington. It's a huge job, but that would be great for Nasa. And I love DC! "