Astronaut Mom Kellie Gerardi Wants Girls To Be Comfortable Taking Up Space

We live in a society that tells us little girls can be anything they want to be when they grow up — and then, all too often, that same society shames those grown-up little girls for becoming women who dare to prioritize their careers. But Kellie Gerardi is a mom on a mission: She wants us to feel empowered by all of our dreams, whether those ambitions just include motherhood or, in Gerardi’s case, shooting for the actual stars.

On Nov. 2, 2023, Gerardi joined the ranks of the first 100 women in space when she served as a payload specialist on the Galactic O5 research mission. During this mission, she conducted biomedical and thermodynamic fluid experiments for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS).

For Gerardi, an astronaut and passionate science communicator, it’s essential that little girls like her 5-year-old daughter, Delta, see that space is for everyone — and not even the sky is the limit to what women can achieve when they set their minds to something.

In fact, Gerardi just announced a second spaceflight in the works, and she’s *leading* this next IIAS mission. Even more exciting? She’ll fly to space as part of an all-female, international research space flight crew. Accompanying her will be fellow astronauts and payload specialists Dr. Shawna Pandya (Canada’s fourth female astronaut) and Dr. Norah Patten (Ireland’s first astronaut).

Scary Mommy caught up with this wildly inspiring multi-hyphenate mom to chat about everything from democratizing space travel to being an interstellar Swiftie.

SM: How does being one of the first 100 women in space feel?

KG: It’s the honor of a lifetime, of course. When I think about that figure, every time I hear it said out loud or say it myself, it still boggles my mind that I — just a normal person, a mom, a woman who’s otherwise just a very regular civilian — could be part of that figure.

It just goes to show that the limiter to human spaceflight has always been access and not aptitude. I know so many people capable of doing exactly what I did, and it’s really exciting to know that this new industry is enabling that access, especially for the science community to use space as a laboratory to benefit humanity.

SM: What was the most surprising thing about that experience for you?

KG: I would say I had a really good grasp of exactly what I needed to do. I was well-trained. I knew what to expect.

The one thing I could not have prepared for is the emotional aspect of seeing planet Earth from space myself with my own eyes. Everyone has seen photos of it from much further away than I was. The difference for me was experiencing Earth as a planet among other planets. And then that cognitive dissonance of, in that moment, being both a part of it and slightly outside of it… and just realizing that I was not on the same planet as my baby.

It still gives me chills. It’s just a unique and modern experience, and I’m so excited that more people will benefit from it.

SM: Women in male-dominated fields have always had to work twice as hard, and a huge hurdle in STEM fields is getting women out there. What do you think have been your critical factors for success?

KG: So many things. One is having a village. I knew early on in my personal life that I was interested in having a family and a career. So, I think it’s being able to be really intentional about creating the support system that I would need to accomplish both of those things — in my choice of partner being someone who supports my dreams and wants me to reach my full potential the same way I want it, as well as benefiting from the blessing of having a really supportive family. My mom, in particular, is very helpful with childcare and is the one who just covers all the gaps as they emerge in my life.

The other part is mindset. It means knowing that on any given day or week, the scales might not perfectly balance between work and life and all of those competing responsibilities. [It’s] knowing that the months and the years do even out, and realizing it’s OK for the rhythm of our family to look this way and that time spent away is time spent invested in my daughter’s future.

I’ve also benefitted from visible representation and having a group of women in my life who embody all those themes of ambition without competitiveness. It’s the inspirational aspect of being able to look to them for advice, for venting, and just having an outlet like that of women equally motivated but struggling with some of the same things you are. Building that personal advisory board has been really helpful.

I’ve benefited from making sure I’m not always looking up for inspiration from people further than I am in my career. If I had done that, I would’ve missed out on 50% of the talent. I benefit immensely from taking mentorship from people who are just starting out their careers and who have unique perspectives at this moment in time in the industry.

SM: You mentioned your husband, Steven, so here’s a little shout-out to him — I love seeing how many of your followers call him a walking green flag.

KG: He is such a walking green flag. He has this fun novelty parody shirt that’s just my name with eight pictures of my face on it. It’s just a big fan T-shirt, and I love it. He is really supportive, and I’m very lucky to have a true partner in that sense.

SM: I want to mention your mom, too, because you’ve spoken before about how women weren’t even eligible to become astronauts when she was growing up. What impactful conversations have y’all had as this has all unfolded?

KG: She’s been my biggest champion, along with my dad.

It’s a fundamental shift — the fact that when she was born, human beings hadn’t yet been to space. When she was growing up, women were ineligible to become astronauts in the U.S. One single generation later, she’s watching her daughter fly to space; she’s watching her granddaughter take it for granted. That paradigm shift has made both of us quite emotional, just to see that come true in our lifetimes and watch it be well-positioned to be carried even further in Delta’s generation.

What I’ve taken away from that is just the nurturing support and confident mindset that she passed along to me is something so invaluable, and it’s something I want to give to my daughter as well.

I put no pressure on Delta. But what I would love to instill in her is that same unapologetic mindset about believing that she’s capable of any of her dreams — growing up just knowing the sky is not a limit on her dreams and giving herself permission to use this one precious life that she has to go full throttle in pursuit of those dreams, whether or not she wants to balance a family along the way. My mom has given me that mindset in spades and backed it up with the support to actually do that.

SM: What does Delta think she wants to be when she grows up?

KG: She wants to be a mommy, a teacher, an astronaut, and a veterinarian. Those are the current top four, which I love — we love a multi-hyphenate in this household. A few weeks ago, it was baker… and then we left the cookies in the oven a little too long, and there was a meltdown. So, that career is currently off the table.

SM: Being an astronaut sometimes means missing out on everyday mom moments, like bedtime. You recently partnered with wellness company Hatch for their Tuck-Ins feature, which allows you to record a message or story that can be played anytime. What has that meant to your family?

KG: I’ve been using the Hatch products for a long time. So much of what has connected my daughter and me is routine at night; it’s the thing that brings our family back to the baseline of normal. And reading bedtime stories is part of our wind-down routine — it has been since she was born. In fact, the children’s book series that I wrote, Luna Muna, was also born out of a bedtime story that I used to tell her every night.

So, incorporating that into a really natural progression of still keeping that semblance of routine at night when I am traveling away for work, whether it’s training or just far away, has been something that keeps us connected. And I just think it’s the sweetest thing in the world.

SM: You mentioned Luna Muna, which I think should be an animated series on Netflix. Just throwing that out there…

KG: From your lips to Netflix’s ears.

SM: Do you use bedtime stories at night to test out ideas for future Luna Muna books?

KG: I do test them out with Delta. She’s my 6-year-old control group: What’s interesting to you? What would be fun and exciting? I’m always testing that out with her and taking her ideas, too. We also play a game we call Never Ending Story, where we each take a turn saying the next line in a story with no idea where it’ll go, and it just evolves from there. I love hearing what she comes up with because it’s always so sweet and creative and unexpected.

SM: You’re very transparent and authentic about your experiences as a mom and female. You even shared that you unexpectedly got your period right before your space flight. When did you decide how much you wanted to be open about?

KG: I’ve always been very transparent. And I am a naturally positive and optimistic person, so I enjoy connecting with people who match that energy.

But when I knew I was getting the opportunity to go to space, I became much more conscious of my perception online and in society. It made me want to be very deliberate about not toning down anything about my authentic self to try to match society’s picture of what they believed a woman in space should look like. Instead, I wanted to force society’s picture to expand to include me.

SM: I love that your authentic self includes wearing friendship bracelets to space, as you are a self-proclaimed Swiftie. What’s your favorite Taylor Swift song, and have you and Delta seen her in concert yet?

KG: My favorite song right now is “Florida.” It’s like an anthem here in Jupiter, Florida. My favorite album is Reputation; I’m very excited for, hopefully, Taylor’s version.

We haven’t gotten a chance to go yet, but we’re going to night two in Miami this October — my aunt surprised us with tickets! We missed the first concert run because I was training for space and the dates didn’t work, but I really wanted to take Delta. She’s never been to a concert before… this will be her first.

In my spare time, I’m already pre-making a bunch of astronaut-era friendship bracelets so that I can trade them.

SM: You’ve built this really incredible following across social media where you clearly inspire so many women and moms. What kind of feedback from them resonates most with you?

KG: I feel so grateful to have such an incredible and supportive community. I do feel like always seeing so many nice comments is a bit of a rarity in the social media world! The feedback that always resonates the most with me is when women tell me that my content has boosted their own self-confidence or inspired them to bet on themselves.

I also love hearing from parents who tell me that seeing videos of me in space has shown their children that not even the sky is the limit on their dreams.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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