Dreaming of Mars, Tampa native hopes to inspire others

- Payton Barnwell was like millions of other girls who took dance classes, but then she did something different. She decided to become a scientist.

"None of my family members were into science. I just took a kind of different route,” she explained.

Many more boys go into science, engineering and technology than girls. But Payton wants to help turn the tide. Right now she's part of a contest to win a visit to a science station in Hawaii where the environment of Mars is simulated.

"I want to make Mars a place where humans can live and be happy," offered the 19-year-old mechanical engineering major, who just finished her sophomore year at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.

She's also performing NASA-funded experiments on protecting organisms from radiation.

This summer she has an internship with NASA working with researchers studying "space veggies" -- how to grow food supplies in space. She says she was inspired by her physics teacher at Hillsborough High School in Tampa and now she hopes to inspire others.

"To show other little girls that, hey, you can do this. You're not alone. You can go for it and you will be fine. You can shoot for the stars," she added.

She expects to get word soon on that contest with the trip to Hawaii.

LINK: Watch Payton's student astronaut contest video

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