Kellie Gerardi

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Kellie Gerardi isn’t the first tech industry worker with a side hustle. When she’s not working her day job as a mission operations specialist at sometimes-controversial data analysis firm Palantir, she’s also a popular TikTok star, where her videos about outer space, astrophysics, and motherhood have garnered nearly 460,000 followers.

As soon as next year, however, Gerardi will take on a new moonlighting gig that few can match: The 32-year-old is slated to embark on her first spaceflight as a payload specialist with Virgin Galactic, making her one of the youngest mothers to ever leave the atmosphere, and the first female payload specialist contracted to fly on a commercial spacecraft.

“Less than a thousand humans have ever been to space — fewer than 100 women, only a handful of moms, and my three-year-old is going to watch her mommy become one of them,” Gerardi told Insider. “That’s a really powerful framework and one that I think as she grows up, she believes that going to space is just another thing mommies do.”

Set to fly on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity suborbital spacecraft, Gerardi’s flight is expected to last 60 to 75 minutes, and will take off and land at the company’s space hub in New Mexico. Gerardi will conduct a fluid dynamics experiment in microgravity and test wearable sensors that monitor the biological impact of space flight on civilians.

The experiments are being conducted by and for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), a research and education organization that encourages private citizens to explore space, and where Gerardi is also a researcher. IIAS and Virgin Galactic will work with academic and government partners to plan the flight and “maximize the science and technology advancements gained from the research experiments,” Virgin Galactic said in a press release. IIAS is also funding Gerardi’s flight and providing her with training ahead of takeoff.

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Notably, Gerardi isn’t herself an engineer, but rather a science communicator and citizen scientist: As Virgin Galactic and others like Blue Origin and SpaceX race to make space tourism and exploration more widely available within the next few years, Gerardi says future space travelers “won’t all be engineers.”

When she returns from her space flight, Gerardi hopes to help make sure the next generation of space explorers is a more diverse one, from a wide range of backgrounds and demographics.

“I’m just one of many, many researchers who are going to fly in the next decade with their payloads and with their experiments,” she said. “I want to help make sure that that pipeline isn’t a one-off for me.”

From working coat check at an exclusive New York club to outer space

Gerardi told Insider she grew up with a strong interest in space, but also an “outdated framework” around who was allowed to be an astronaut. The space industry, like other STEM fields, has wide racial and gender gaps and is overrepresented by white men. Women make up only 24% of aerospace industry professionals, according to an Aviation Week …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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