Reaching for the Stars with Kellie Gerardi

A recent journey to space is just the latest “wow” moment in a series of accomplishments for the Jupiter mom who inspires young girls around the world

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Kellie Gerardi in her official Virgin Galactic space suit. Photo by Steven Martine
Kellie Gerardi in her official Virgin Galactic space suit. Photo by Steven Martine

On July 20, 1969, the world watched as astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong famously said. It would be nearly 15 more years before an American woman would go to space, when Sally Ride shot off from Cape Canaveral in the Challenger in 1983, inspiring little girls across the country to add “astronaut” to their list of aspirations. Since then, fewer than 80 women have taken the leap into space. One of those brave souls is Jupiter resident Kellie Gerardi.

In November, Gerardi joined a Virgin Galactic crew on a flight to space, where she conducted health care research funded by the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences. The bioastronautics researcher hopes that sharing her journey will inspire more young girls to reach for the stars too.

“Women in the United States were not even eligible to become astronauts until the 1980s, and the relatively limited access to space compounded the problem,” says Gerardi, 35. “I do think that is changing rapidly though. When my mom was born, human beings hadn’t been to space, and then one single generation later, she is watching her daughter become an astronaut.”

Gerardi at home in Jupiter. Photo by Steven Martine
Gerardi at home in Jupiter. Photo by Steven Martine

The experience was a dream come true for Gerardi, who was born and raised in Jupiter. “Growing up here, my bedroom window faced northeast and that stretch of sky over Cape Canaveral,” she recalls. “I could literally watch space shuttle launches from my bedroom.”

After graduating from Jupiter Community High School in 2007, she moved to New York City to study documentary filmmaking at Barnard College (later matriculating at NYU). But a chance encounter with an astronaut at The Explorers Club, where she was working the coat check, opened her mind to the opportunities in commercial spaceflight. “I adjusted the limiter on my imagination after meeting Richard Garriott de Cayeux,” she says of the astronaut who would serve as a mentor to Gerardi in later years.

When she graduated from NYU in 2011—ironically, the same year the national space shuttle program was retired—the commercial spaceflight industry was just starting to emerge.
Fascinated by the possibilities, Gerardi went on to do graduate coursework in bioastronautics at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences in Colorado. “I was really motivated to be part of opening up access to space and democratizing access to space and expanding Earth’s economic sphere,” she says. “As a new grad, to me it felt like, wow, that’s the
Star Trek future I want to be a part of!”

Boarding the spacecraft felt like “walking toward my destiny,” says Gerard. Photo courtesy of Kellie Gerardi
Boarding the spacecraft felt like “walking toward my destiny,” says Gerard. Photo courtesy of Kellie Gerardi

She began her career at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and, since then, has worked in multiple areas of commercial spaceflight. Since 2015, she has been working with Palantir Technologies, a company that helps organizations govern artificial intelligence across public and private networks. Palantir’s technology is used in satellites and U.S. Air and Space Force applications. “I’ve really spanned everything from policy to
hardware to everything in between to try to contribute to this industry,” she says. Throughout her career, Gerardi has also been heavily focused on parabolic flight and microgravity research.

On the morning of November 2, 2023, Gerardi boarded the VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico with a crew of six for the Galactic 05 mission. “I felt like I was walking toward my destiny when I boarded the spacecraft,” she says. “This spaceflight was the great ‘before and after’ divide in my life, and that was in the forefront of my mind.” An hour later, she was floating through space.

The experience literally took her breath away. “Virgin Galactic has cameras in the cabin, so I could just watch this video of my breath catching in my throat over and over,” she recalls. “It was like a comic book jaw-drop moment, where I was just looking at this jewel of a planet, experiencing Earth and that cognitive dissonance of being both a part of it as home and then slightly outside of it and the profundity of knowing that everything that ever was is there and I’m here. The drama of seeing the planet was breathtaking.”

Gerardi on board the VSS Unity in November. Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic
Gerardi on board the VSS Unity in November. Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic

But Gerardi also had a mission on board: on her journey, she would conduct various testing that could help scientists in the field of medicine. For example, she monitored her own glucose levels in an effort to learn more about treating diabetes—a condition she is personally invested in. “There is evidence that suggests long-duration spaceflight induces insulin resistance, but we don’t know yet how quickly that starts,” she says. “My mother is insulin dependent, so this research is close to me and my family.”

With a passion for making space exploration more accessible and attainable to young girls, Gerardi hopes her recent flight will serve as an inspiration. To that end, she has also penned a children’s book series centered on space exploration—with a female main character named Luna Muna. The idea first came to her when she and her husband, Steven (who works in aerospace and defense recruitment), were expecting their daughter, Delta V, now 6. “I was struggling to find books that centered on a little girl’s experience in space,” Gerardi says. “All the books I could find had little boys as the main character.” The first book, Luna Muna, follows a young girl who blasts off on an adventure into space. The character, modeled after her daughter, likes sparkles and pink in addition to space. “I wanted to show that space isn’t incompatible with all of the things so many little girls love,” says Gerardi. The second book in the series, Luna Muna: Space Café, was published last November, and there is a third book in the works.

Gerardi at home. Photo by Steven Martine
Gerardi at home. Photo by Steven Martine

Gerardi takes comfort in knowing that she has opened at least one little girl’s mind to the possibilities of what they can do. “When my daughter is asked to draw a picture of an astronaut, she draws a girl,” says Gerardi. And it is safe to say that she is reaching many more girls all over the world. A savvy social media presence, Gerardi shares positive messages about space, motherhood, and girl power (often along with her daughter) with her more than 1.2 million followers on Instagram and TikTok combined. The petite, down-to-earth brunette is no doubt playing a pivotal role in changing the conversation about what astronauts look like today.

For a woman who once watched space launches through her bedroom window in Jupiter, knowing that her research and journey into space could one day help her own mom here on Earth feels as though the world has come full circle. “My mom and dad have always been so supportive,” she says. “They joke that I took it really literally when they said, ‘Reach for the stars.’” kelliegerardi.com; @kelliegerardi (Instagram and TikTok) 

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