Tampa's Payton Barnwell takes giant step to her fulfilling her dream of becoming an astronaut

Winner of elite Brooke Owens Fellowship

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Payton Barnwell has serious travel plans.

“Definitely the moon first,” says Barnwell. “Can you imagine the feeling when you come back to Earth, seeing this little blue ball and you’re from that?”

Science fiction for this 20-year-old Hillsborough High graduate? Not for this all-world talent.

Barnwell, a junior at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, is amassing an interstellar aerospace resume.

She just won a prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship, an internship for up-and-coming women involved in space exploration. She beat beat out dozens of others nationwide.

Payton has also interned at Kennedy Space Center, working on a project involving growing lettuce on the International Space Station.

Her Cape Canaveral jaunt definitely had its perks.

“Lunch with astronauts,” Barnwell says smiling. “Very cool.”

Payton will be the first person in her family to graduate from college. She started an outreach program to mentor high-schoolers, letting them know that dreams are always within reach no matter the limitations.

Case in point?

“I actually don’t get straight A’s in math at all, as any of my professors will tell you,” said Barnwell 

Instead, her strengths are curiosity, perseverance and a love of space that started when she was a kid.

“I saw the launches from my front yard, since I’m from Tampa,” Barnwell says. “My dad and I would run outside and watch it takeoff.”

Becoming an astronaut is extremely competitive. But for Payton, the sky is always the limit. 

“If you like gardening, if you like math or business or Human Resources, everything can be transferred into up there,” Payton says, pointing straight up to the heavens.

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