First female payload specialist for Virgin Galactic
When people told Kellie Gerardi to shoot for the stars, they didn’t think she would be so literal about it.
But she took it seriously, and the 32-year-old Jupiter woman is heading into space.
Gerardi will be aboard a future space flight on the VSS Unity from New Mexico. The price for the trip, operated by Virgin Galactic, is around $ 600,000, she said.
Virgin founder Richard Branson completed the first Unity flight on Sunday, which lasted about 15 minutes.
Some details of the search mission are still under wraps, like the exact date and location of the flight, but Gerardi said she didn’t have a shred of nervousness about the trip.
“I’m so excited and so ready to fly,” she told the Palm Beach Post by email.
Path traced by a “citizen-scientist” through industry and research groups
When Gerardi, a native of Jupiter, was growing up, she had a lot of access to rocket launches that piqued her interest in space travel. But she said it wasn’t until she became an adult that she realized she could be a part of it.
Gerardi said she first became involved with The Explorers Club, a group founded in New York City in 1904 to promote scientific exploration and field study. She then connected with networks of people trying to open up commercial access to the space.
She began working with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a private spaceflight industry group headquartered in Washington, DC, first in communications and then in business development for companies like Virgin Galactic.
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She sees herself as a citizen scientist who represents a “new breed” of astronauts. Gerardi studied bioastronautics at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, a citizen science institute based in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in space-related fields.
“I am delighted to help ensure that this becomes a cohesive pipeline of researchers flying through space with their experiments,” she said.
As a payload specialist, Gerardi will take several experiences with her during her flight.
One is a biomonitoring experiment using a portable sensor system developed by Carré Technologies of Montreal. The sensor system is a “smart undershirt” equipped with sensors designed to measure the biological effects of spaceflight on humans.
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The Astroskin sensor system is currently in use on the International Space Station, where it helps monitor the effects of microgravity on ISS astronauts, Gerardi said.
“My spaceflight will be the first time we will be able to collect data during launch, reentry and landing, so I am delighted to contribute to this new data collection,” she said.
Mom on Richard Branson’s VSS Unity: Daughter “will grow up knowing that even the sky is not a limit”
Gerardi is not only interested in space in his professional life. She is also obsessed with the last frontier at home.
One of the most exciting parts of her trip is getting to share the news with her husband, Steven, and their 3-year-old daughter, Delta Victoria, whose name is a nod to the Delta-V symbol used in the dynamics of spaceflight.
“I get emotional when I think about what it means for her to see me, her mom, become an astronaut,” Gerardi said. “In Delta’s mind, flying in space is just another thing moms do. She will grow up knowing that even the sky is not a limit. This mental framework is something that I wish for all children.
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Gerardi’s flight will be historic in another way: she will be the first female payload specialist to travel into space with Virgin Galactic.
“Less than 100 women in history, and only a handful of moms, have ever flown into space,” Gerardi said. “And I really believe representation matters.”
As she joins Sally Ride and Kathleen Rubins, Gerardi said she hopes to continue her efforts to “democratize space” for people beyond government-trained astronauts.
“I want to see people from all walks of life experience space flight. I think humanity will be better off for it, ”she said. “For me, the space age is a larger cultural movement, and our next giant leap will require the contribution of artists, engineers and everyone in between.”