Kellie Gerardi shoots for the stars.
The researcher, author and social media influencer has recently learned that she will be on her way to space on a flight with Virgin Galactic.
“I think it would be very appropriate for me to say that I could never have dreamed of this, but it would not be true,” she told The Post. “The reality is that I have been dreaming about this. . . every single day in detail in the last decade. ”
Although she is not a professional astronaut engineer, the 32-year-old civilian space enthusiast is heavily involved in commercial space travel. For her, the new space race is about more than getting billionaires like Virgin Galactic̵
“I’m so grateful for Richard Branson’s vision of democratizing access to space,” she said of the billionaire, who is said to have fired into a rocket himself on Sunday, July 11th. “[Humanity] will not just send engineers to space; we send poets and journalists and communicators and artists and athletes. This is a watershed moment for more people to experience it. ”
The three companies, she added, “took action to disrupt the old way of doing business with an eye towards agility and innovation and lower costs dramatically.”
Gerardi will take what is called a suborbital spaceflight, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her seat is funded by her employer, the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS). “You go up, you enjoy five minutes of microgravity, and you come right down again,” she explained. The whole trip takes about two hours and she cannot reveal when it will take place.
When she blows off, Gerardi will have a bio-surveillance suit called Astroskin under her gear to monitor how the body responds to the journey. “This will be the first time we collect data where someone carries it during launch, re-entry and landing,” she explained. She will also conduct an experiment on how liquids react to a limited environment in microgravity – and the results may affect how drugs in syringes are administered in space.
It seems that Gerardi’s interest in space was written in the stars. “I grew up in Jupiter,” she said with a laugh in the city of Florida, less than two hours from NASA launch pads. “My window framed this stretch of sky over Cape Canaveral, and from there I saw so many space shuttles. It did not occur to me at the time that I could be a part of it. ”
To college, Gerardi went to New York City, where she first attended Barnard and then graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2011 with a degree in film. “I thought that when I was educated, I should work for NatGeo or the Science Channel,” she said. “Then I realized that the entertainment industry was not for me.”
Instead, she decided to pursue something more adventurous.
She started working on a coat survey at Manhattan headquarters at the Explorers Club, a community dedicated to land, ocean and air discoveries. (Now she’s on the club’s board.) It was here that she met her mentors, Richard and Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux. Richard was a private astronaut and a civilian video game developer who self-financed his mission to the International Space Station – he was one of the first [civilians] to do it, ”Gerardi said.
She would do the same. But “I felt like there was no way I could catch up through a natural NASA selection process,” Gerardi admitted of his astronaut dreams. “[Meeting Richard] was a breakthrough moment for me. ”
She then worked in communications and business development for a rocket company. As a DC-based crew member and bioastronautics researcher with IIAS, Gerardi has tested spacesuits, evaluated aircraft, studied biometrics and even flown in simulated micro- and zero-gravity conditions – all to help optimize the human experience in space.
Still, Gerardi admitted that she does not come from a traditional scientific background has sometimes felt self-conscious about her place in space.
“I have had a huge sense of fraud syndrome in the past,” she said. “I will never be stereotyped [professional astronaut] who travels to space, but I’m about changing that stereotype. ”
Flying out of this world “is the only goal in my life,” Gerardi said. “Every decision I have made – career, family – in the last few years has been very explicitly oriented around making this goal happen.”
Her husband, Steven, is also in the air: He works in aerospace and defense. At their wedding, astronaut Scott Kelly sent them a video toast from the International Space Station. “My daughter has seen all these photos of mom in a spacesuit, and she thinks that’s exactly what moms do,” Gerardi said of the 3-year-old Delta V. (V is for Victoria).
Gerardi wants to take her family out into the room with her in the form of good luck charm.
“I carry a few. . . personal memorials in my flight suit pockets, ”she said. “I want to focus on things that are meaningful to my family, maybe a photo and the memorial sites that were created for my wedding and for my daughter’s birth.”
Her social media followers will track her journey – Gerardi has 137,000 on Instagram and 525,000 on TikTok. “Over the years, [my accounts] fully transformed, from ambitious to inspiring, ”she said, noting that she often shares her research in an effort to be more inclusive. Before, “There was a feeling that I was inside instead of outside. I’m trying to get more people involved. ”
Last fall, she published her memoir “Not Necessarily Rocket Science: A Beginner’s Guide to Life in the Space Age,” and in February she signed an agreement to write children’s books, the first of which will be published later this year. Her main goal, Gerardi said, is to inspire people like her who do not fit the traditional astronaut shape.
“I create my own path to space,” she said. “I’m really motivated to help expand access to space for people who come from different skills, like me. This is not a path that is closed to you. ”
Further reporting from Kirsten Fleming
Photos: John Olive and Tolga Kavut; Hair: Steven Hoeppner; Makeup: Paolo Orlando