So I saw many planets, and they looked just a little bit brighter than they do from Earth.
Even though NASA tries to simulate launch, and we practice in simulators, it's not the same – it's not even close to the same.
Well, we spend an awful lot of our time working and doing experiments. It's very busy up on the shuttle.
When the space shuttle's engines cut off, and you're finally in space, in orbit, weightless… I remember unstrapping from my seat, floating over to the window, and that's when I got my first view of Earth. Just a spectacular view, and a chance to see our planet as a planet.
My parents must have done a great job. Anytime I wanted to pursue something that they weren't familiar with, that was not part of their lifestyle, they let me go ahead and do it.
We can see cities during the day and at night, and we can watch rivers dump sediment into the ocean, and see hurricanes form.
I liked math – that was my favorite subject – and I was very interested in astronomy and in physical science.
On a standard space shuttle crew, two of the astronauts have a test pilot background – the commander and the pilot.
I've discovered that half the people would love to go into space and there's no need to explain it to them. The other half can't understand and I couldn't explain it to them. If someone doesn't know why, I can't explain it.
Yes, I did feel a special responsibility to be the first American woman in space.
So most astronauts getting ready to lift off are excited and very anxious and worried about that explosion – because if something goes wrong in the first seconds of launch, there's not very much you can do.
But when I wasn't working, I was usually at a window looking down at Earth.
I haven't written my memoirs or let the television movie be made about my life.
I slept just floating in the middle of the flight deck, the upper deck of the space shuttle.
For a long time, society put obstacles in the way of women who wanted to enter the sciences.
I have a lot of common sense. I know what needs to be done and how to approach it. I have an ability to work with people on large enterprises.
The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it.
Once you are assigned to a flight, the whole crew is assigned at the same time, and then that crew trains together for a whole year to prepare for that flight.
The space shuttle is a better and safer rocket than it was before the Challenger accident.
It takes a couple of years just to get the background and knowledge that you need before you can go into detailed training for your mission.
I think eventually private enterprise will be able to send people into orbit, but I suspect initially it's going to have to be with NASA's help.
It's easy to sleep floating around – it's very comfortable. But you have to be careful that you don't float into somebody or something!
Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It's posing questions and coming up with a method. It's delving in.
The women's movement had already paved the way, I think, for my coming.
After the Challenger accident, NASA put in a lot of time to improve the safety of the space shuttle to fix the things that had gone wrong.
I've spent my whole life not talking to people, and I don't see why I should start now.
No, I think most astronauts recognize that the space shuttle program is very high-risk, and are prepared for accidents.
But even in elementary school and junior high, I was very interested in space and in the space program.
For whatever reason, I didn't succumb to the stereotype that science wasn't for girls. I got encouragement from my parents. I never ran into a teacher or a counselor who told me that science was for boys. A lot of my friends did.
The pressure suit helps if something goes wrong during launch or re-entry – astronauts have a way to parachute off the shuttle. The suits protect you from loss of pressure in case of emergency.
I didn't really decide that I wanted to be an astronaut for sure until the end of college.
So most astronauts are astronauts for a couple of years before they are assigned to a flight.
There are aspects of being the first woman in space that I'm not going to enjoy.
Some astronauts sleep in sort of beds – compartments that you can open up and crawl into and then close up, almost like a little bedroom.
Studying whether there's life on Mars or studying how the universe began, there's something magical about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. That's something that is almost part of being human, and I'm certain that will continue.
The food isn't too bad. It's very different from the food that the astronauts ate in the very early days of the space program.
One thing I probably share with everyone else in the astronaut office is composure.
My background is in physics, so I was the mission specialist, who is sort of like the flight engineer on an airplane.
The astronauts who came in with me in my astronaut class – my class had 29 men and 6 women – those men were all very used to working with women.
The experience of being in space didn't change my perspective of myself or of the planet or of life. I had no spiritual experience.
I think it's important for little girls growing up, and young women, to have one in every walk of life. So from that point of view, I'm proud to be a role model!
It's well known that many girls have a tendency to dumb down when they're in middle school.
I do a lot of running and hiking, and I also collect stamps – space stamps and Olympics stamps.
I was always very interested in science, and I knew that for me, science was a better long-term career than tennis.
NASA has to approve whatever we wear, so there are clothes to choose from, like space shorts – we wear those a lot – and NASA T-shirts.
I felt very honored, and I knew that people would be watching very closely, and I felt it was very, very important that I do a good job.
When you're getting ready to launch into space, you're sitting on a big explosion waiting to happen.
Then during the mission itself, I used the space shuttle's robot arm to release a satellite into orbit.