Meet the mom, 32, who has fulfilled her dream as a citizen astronaut on Virgin Galactic


‘This spaceflight opportunity certainly marks the biggest achievement to date, but my dreams for the future are that I’m able to use this as a catalyst to ensure hundreds more follow,’ says the infectiously smiley and ambitious Kellie Gerardi.

The 32-year-old mother-of-one from Jupiter, Florida, is still in somewhat of a daze after being announced as a research specialist on an upcoming Virgin Galactic flight to conduct various experiments ahead of the company’s commercial flights coming into play.

Gerardi, who describes herself as ‘mission driven’, admits she differs from astronauts as she doesn’t have a scientific, engineering, or mathematical background, but she has dedicated her life to space exploration in a bid to show that the sector is open to anyone with a passion to boldly go where no man or woman has gone before.

Kellie Gerardi, pictured with her daughter Delta-V, will be traveling on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity from New Mexico as a payload specialist

Gerardi, who describes herself as 'mission driven', admits she differs from astronauts as she doesn't have a scientific, engineering, or mathematical background. Pictured, testing space flight gear

Gerardi, who describes herself as ‘mission driven’, admits she differs from astronauts as she doesn’t have a scientific, engineering, or mathematical background. Pictured, testing space flight gear

The Floridian’s fascination with space started as a kid, with the Kennedy Space Center on her doorstep. She muses: ‘My family was a bit surprised when I took the advice to ‘reach for the stars’ quite literally.’

As a young adult, Gerardi went on to channel her ambitions by getting involved with The Explorers Club, a prestigious members-only club, on which she now serves on the board of directors.

Through the club, she came into contact with a wide range of individuals in the field of exploration, including the original Apollo 11 flight crew and one of her mentors is the club’s new president Richard Garriott de Cayeux, who in 2021 became the first to have explored pole to pole, ventured to space as a tourist, and reached the deepest point in the Ocean after visiting the Mariana Trench in a specialist sub.

Gerardi’s space obsession even stretched to her 2015 marriage to private equity specialist Steven Baumruk, where they walked down the aisle to the Imperial March from Star Wars with Storm Troopers in tow.

The wedding invites included a custom-designed mission patch by NASA patch artist Tim Gagnon and American Cosmonaut and Martian Sunrise cocktails were in free flow.

The couple went on to name their daughter Delta Victoria, or Delta-V for short as a ‘deeply geeky’ play to the delta-v symbol which is used in spacecraft flight dynamics.

Gerardi's space obsession even stretched to her 2015 marriage to private equity specialist Steven Baumruk, where they walked down the aisle to the Imperial March from Star Wars with Storm Troopers in tow

Gerardi’s space obsession even stretched to her 2015 marriage to private equity specialist Steven Baumruk, where they walked down the aisle to the Imperial March from Star Wars with Storm Troopers in tow

The couple went on to name their daughter Delta Victoria, or Delta-V for short as a 'deeply geeky' play to the delta-v symbol which is used in spacecraft flight dynamics

The couple went on to name their daughter Delta Victoria, or Delta-V for short as a ‘deeply geeky’ play to the delta-v symbol which is used in spacecraft flight dynamics

Luckily, Delta, now aged three, shares her mom's fascination with all things space she regularly makes appearances on Gerardi's hugely successful TikTok channel, which has almost half a million fans

Luckily, Delta, now aged three, shares her mom’s fascination with all things space she regularly makes appearances on Gerardi’s hugely successful TikTok channel, which has almost half a million fans

Luckily, Delta, now aged three, shares her mom’s fascination with all things space she regularly makes appearances on Gerardi’s hugely successful TikTok channel, which has almost half a million fans. 

Gerardi says she would never push her wishes on her children but ‘nurturing a natural curiosity is one of the best things you can do for a kid’.

Returning to the subject of the recent announcement around her space debut, Gerardi says: ‘In some ways, I represent a new breed of astronaut as a researcher selected to fly to space with Virgin Galactic’s payload experiments.

‘I’m humbled and honored to fly to space with the company, and I’m grateful for Richard Branson’s vision to democratize access to space.

The next wave of space travelers won’t all be engineers, and that’s entirely the point. To me, the Space Age is a broader cultural movement

‘Space is truly a laboratory to benefit all of humanity, and companies like Virgin Galactic are leading the charge to help make that possible.’

With a background in communications, operations, and business development, Gerardi pursued her dream to work in space by applying these skills within the industry.

She also took part in dozens of analog space research missions, conducting field tests in locations around the world that have physical similarities to the extreme space environments.

One of these took her to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

These research expeditions, which test everything from living conditions to diets, often require a team with a mixture of attributes, from data analysts to communications experts.

Gerardi went on to land a role as a bioastronautics researcher with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), which is a citizen-science institute. 

During her time with the IIAS, she has taken park in various experiments in zero gravity to help develop commercial spacesuits and enhance our understanding around the physiological and psychological impacts of space travel. 

During her time with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), Gerardi has taken park in various experiments in zero gravity to help develop commercial spacesuits and enhance our understanding around the physiological and psychological impacts of space travel. Above, pictured on a zero gravity plane

During her time with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), Gerardi has taken park in various experiments in zero gravity to help develop commercial spacesuits and enhance our understanding around the physiological and psychological impacts of space travel. Above, pictured on a zero gravity plane

For her space mission, Gerardi will be traveling on the VSS Unity from New Mexico and she will be the first female payload specialist to go to space with Virgin Galactic. Pictured, during a zero gravity test flight

For her space mission, Gerardi will be traveling on the VSS Unity from New Mexico and she will be the first female payload specialist to go to space with Virgin Galactic. Pictured, during a zero gravity test flight

Looking ahead, Gerardi believes space tourism will become big business and that we are 'standing on the doorstep to a new era of space exploration'

Looking ahead, Gerardi believes space tourism will become big business and that we are ‘standing on the doorstep to a new era of space exploration’

VIRGIN GALACTIC TEST FLIGHT SCHEDULE 

Following a successful flight in May, Virgin Galactic will next conduct three additional test flights. These will be:

  • A second flight with two pilots and a full cabin of employee mission specialists
  • A third flight with two pilots, employee mission specialists and Sir Richard Branson
  • A fourth flight in partnership with the Italian Air Force, including three spaceflight participants, multiple payloads, and during which training and experiments will be conducted

Virgin Galactic expects to complete the VSS Unity flight test program during the 2021 calendar year and begin commercial operations in 2022.

The organization announced this month that it is now paying $600,000 (£422,694) for Gerardi’s ticket to space on a flight not expected to launch until next year at the earliest when the test program comes to a close. 

She will be traveling on the VSS Unity from New Mexico and she will be the first female payload specialist to go to space with Virgin Galactic. 

During her mission, she will be wearing a smart undershirt, developed by Canadian company Carré Technologies with the support of the Canadian Space Agency, which will be fitted with sensors to detect the biological effects of spaceflight on humans.

Another experiment Gerardi will carry out will look at how liquid behaves in a confined environment in microgravity.

Before her trip to space, Gerardi says that she will undergo thorough training so can ‘carefully choreograph’ her movements in the cabin, while operating in zero gravity and wearing a spacesuit.

She adds: ‘Practice makes perfect! And then, of course, I’ll be looking forward to vehicle-specific training with the Virgin Galactic team. Because this is a dedicated research mission, my flight will involve additional training and operational protocols that differ from a tourist flight. I am beyond excited about astronaut training.’

Looking ahead, Gerardi believes space tourism will become big business and that we are ‘standing on the doorstep to a new era of space exploration’.

She concludes: ‘Companies like Virgin Galactic are leading the way, not only by enabling a new generation of scientist-astronauts like myself to conduct research in space, but also by creating access opportunities for civilians of all disciplines: like poets, athletes, and musicians. – Do you know many people who have purchased VG flights?

‘I know there are hundreds of ticket holders for when Virgin Galactic’s flights start running and I applaud these passengers for their pioneering vision! I want to see people from all backgrounds experience spaceflight – I think humanity will be better off for it.

‘The next wave of space travelers won’t all be engineers, and that’s entirely the point. To me, the Space Age is a broader cultural movement, and our next giant leap will require the contributions of artists, engineers, and everyone in between.’

HOW DOES RICHARD BRANSON’S VIRGIN GALACTIC CONDUCT ITS SPACE FLIGHTS?

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch.

Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo.

WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres).

The first WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve – which Virgin Galactic has used on all of its test flights – was rolled-out in 2008 and has a high-altitude, heavy payload capacity.

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

Unlike other commercial spaceflight companies, such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic initiates its flights without using a traditional rocket launch. Instead, the firm launches its passenger-laden SpaceShipTwo and other craft from a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once SpaceShipTwo has propelled itself into space its engines shut off for a period of weightlessness before returning home

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.

Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity – the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights – though the firm is expected to build more in future.

Once released from WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor engages ‘within seconds’, according to Virgin Galactic.

The craft will then fly approximately three and a half times the speed of sound (2,600mph/4,300kph) into suborbital space, reaching up to 360,890ft (110,000 metres) above the Earth’s surface.

WhiteKnightTwo (artist's impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

WhiteKnightTwo (artist’s impression) is a custom-built, four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft, designed to carry SpaceShipTwo up to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres)

This altitude is defined as beyond the edge of outer space by Nasa.

After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will shut it down, and passengers can then take off their seatbelts to experience weightlessness for several minutes.

The pilots will manoeuvre the spaceship to give the best possible views of Earth and space while raising the vehicle’s wings to its ‘feathered’ re-entry configuration, which decelerates the craft and stabilises its descent.

As gravity pulls the spaceship back towards the Earth’s upper atmosphere, astronauts will return to their seats ready to return to our planet.

At around 50,000 feet (15,240 metres), after re-entry, the pilot will return the spaceship’s wings to their normal configuration, ready to glide back to Earth for a smooth runway landing. 

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) - the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights - though the firm is expected to produce more in future

Once it reaches 50,000 feet (15,240 metres) the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. Virgin Galactic has named its first SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (pictured) – the craft that the company has used in all of its test flights – though the firm is expected to produce more in future



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