First female cargo specialist ‘ready to fly’ for Virgin Galactic


JUPITER, Fla. (AP) – When people told Kellie Gerardi to shoot for the stars, they didn’t think it would be this realistic.

But she took it seriously and the 32-year-old Jupiter woman is going into space.

Gerardi will be on a future spaceflight aboard VSS Unity from New Mexico. He said the trip, operated by Virgin Galactic, cost around $600,000.

Virgin founder Richard Branson completed the first Unity flight on Sunday, which takes about 15 minutes.

Some details of the research mission, such as the date and exactly where the flight will go, are still secret, but Gerardi said he wasn’t nervous about the trip one iota.

“I’m so excited and ready to fly,” he told The Palm Beach Post via email.

Growing up, Gerardi, a Jupiter native, had ample access to rocket launches, which sparked his interest in space travel. But she said she didn’t realize she could be a part of it until she was an adult.

Gerardi said he was first involved with The Explorers Club, a group founded in 1904 in New York City to promote scientific exploration and fieldwork. He then connected with human networks trying to gain commercial access to space.

He started 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 such as Virgin Galactic.

He sees himself as a citizen scientist representing “a new breed of astronaut.” Gerardi studied bioastronaut through the International Institute of Space Sciences, a citizen-science institute based in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in space-related fields.

“I’m excited to help ensure this becomes a coherent pipeline of researchers flying into space with their experiments,” he said.

As a payload specialist, Gerardi will do multiple experiments with him on his flight.

One is a biomonitoring experiment using a wearable sensor system developed by Montreal-based Carré Technologies. The sensor system is a “smart undershirt” equipped with sensors designed to measure the biological effects of spaceflight on humans.

Gerardi said the Astroskin sensor system is currently used on the International Space Station, where it helps monitor the effects of microgravity on ISS astronauts.

“My spaceflight will be the first time we’ll be able to collect data during launch, reentry and landing, so I’m excited to contribute to this new data collection,” he said.

Gerardi is not only interested in space in his professional life. He’s obsessed with the last frontier at home, too.

One of the most exciting parts of her journey is her ability 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 spaceflight dynamics.

“I get emotional when I think about what it means for him to watch his mother become an astronaut,” Gerardi said. “Flying into space is something moms do, according to Delta. She will grow up knowing that even the sky is not the limit. This mental framework is something I wish for all kids.”

Gerardi’s flight will be historic in another way: She will be the first female payload specialist to travel to space with Virgin Galactic.

“Fewer than 100 women and only a handful of mothers have flown into space in history,” Gerardi said. “And I really believe representation is important.”

While joining the likes of Sally Ride and Kathleen Rubins, Gerardi said she hopes to continue the effort to “democratize space” for people beyond government-trained astronauts.

“I want to see people of all backgrounds experience spaceflight. I think humanity will be better for it.” “In my view, the Space Age is a broader cultural movement and our next giant leap will require contributions from artists, engineers and everyone in between.”

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