AUSTIN (KXAN) — Long before Margot Robbie traipsed through space to reach the real world in the 2023 film “Barbie,” one of Mattel’s iconic dolls made history as the first Barbie to fly in space — and its roots are here in Texas.

Austin resident Steve Denison joined NASA as an aerospace engineer in 1989, after finishing undergrad at the University of Kansas. There, he assisted in space shuttle crew training with a few flights, including the Nov. 15, 1990, launch of STS-38.

It was on that flight that Barbie — dressed in a full NASA Space shuttle training uniform — spent nearly five days in space before she and the rest of the STS-38 crew landed at the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 20, 1990.

But how did Barbie end up on that flight — and in space, no less — in the first place?

“I received [the Barbie doll] during a white elephant gift exchange party amongst the team,” Denison said.

He said a team of NASA employees would help train astronauts for orbit operations. During those space simulations, the astronauts would work with a fully modeled space shuttle simulator, where the team would put Barbie on the controls or in the simulator for some entertainment.

“When it was time for the launch, [the crew] said, ‘Steve, can we take her up as our pseudo mascot?’ So we said, ‘of course you can,'” Denison recounted.

The wife of his work friends created the orange spacesuit Barbie donned, matching the crew members on the flight.

Barbie was temporarily put on display in 1999 at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Kansas in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Barbie doll, Denison said in an interview with collectSPACE.

Just recently, the Smithsonian Institution put together a display with two Barbies who flew aboard the International Space Station in 2022. Originally, they were dubbed the first Barbies to fly in space, but Denison brought to their attention the history of the original 1990 launch.

While Denison no longer works in aerospace engineering, he said he still has friends connected to the space community. Some of those include people developing and launching the new Artemis spacecraft that’s under development by NASA.

He said one of his aspirations would be to get Barbie on one of those flights, so she can visit the moon. If successful, Denison said he and the Smithsonian Institution could possibly place his Barbie doll on permanent display in Washington, D.C.

As for now, Denison said he doesn’t have any immediate plans for this Barbie. She had been a source of entertainment and education for many years, including at show and tells with his kids’ classes, he said.

“I’ve had her for a lot of years, and she’s provided for a lot of really good storytelling,” Denison said.

Despite no longer being an aerospace engineer, he said he still has so much respect for the industry and the explosion of space exploration opportunities courtesy NASA, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Firefly Aerospace in Cedar Park, among others.

If Barbie can inspire any child to pursue math, engineering, rocketry or any other STEM fields, Denison said that’s amazing.

“We’ve never before seen more rockets flying into space, satellites being launched — capabilities and communications coming from the sky instead of land-based,” he said. “The more that we can exploit that, and if Barbie has any influence on that? That’s great.”