Kellie Gerardi, author of Not Necessarily Rocket Science, was recently interviewed by Diamond’s Mirror where she talked about her rise to social media stardom and her new book.
Portrait of a 21st Century Social Media Star
It’s Not Necessarily Rocket Science.
Imagine launching to interview the first social media star in space. As you orbit planet Earth at 17,500 mph the gravity and sound barriers slowly break in the 90-minute crusade. You point out continents, cities, the reflection of the desert solar panels and your house. Even more, you come to face with all roots of life as we know it on Planet Earth. On the International Space Station, a bright smile in a floating advanced suit greets you. Sporting a commercial spaceflight crew badge, her name reads Kellie Gerardi. You float toward her and other crew members that begin to welcome you aboard. The traditional journalistic interview breaks barriers of its own, no questions and answers necessary. The massive magical blue rock that floats beneath you, our home, twists your perspective in unimaginable ways. Connecting live back on Earth with a notebook in hand, humanity adds to its history books a stellar world mass media record.
While the above 21st century journalist astronaut launch is still a work in progress, it is far from a space mirage either. In her book Not Necessarily Rocket Science, an autobiography and guideline to the democratization of space, Gerardi portrays the modern astronaut. The weight of it is real too. She has made this her life mission. For more than a decade, Gerardi reached to connect humanity’s purpose of survival and discovery. Pioneering the science communication and public relations field followed like a ripple effect. A very much needed one too. It is because of open minded science communicators like Gerardi, whose limits transcend a regular engineering background, is that we will all be able and ready to evolve in space one day.
Before we join this new generation crew on our future space station, let’s meet the author. Originally from Jupiter, Florida, before Gerardi became a pioneering space media specialist for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, by destiny’s alignment, she had a front row seat to some of the most exciting rocket launches at Cape Canaveral. “My bedroom window faced northeast, perfectly framing the stretch of sky over Cape Canaveral, and from the side of my bed, I watched dozens of astronauts make the journey to space,” she writes in her book.
Her heart sank shortly after graduating college when space shuttle Atlantis marked the retirement of the thirty-year space program. She called it a “devastating setback for the nation,” and if I may add, a personal one too. After all, how many of our own childhood memories include the dream and pursuit of space exploration? From that moment, her heart also began to ignite that this shouldn’t be the last chapter in the United States’ space legacy.
After a short lived but successful career in the film industry, Gerardi set out on an anthropological adventure around the world. Soul searching a story to tell, she tracked melting glaciers on a summit of Mountain Kilimanjaro and received an honorary brass coil courtesy of the long neck Kayan women in Myanmar, where she discovered NASA or NASA discovered her, again. From Tanzania to Thailand and beyond, Gerardi soon began spotting the blue NASA logo on t-shirts worn by humans worldwide. She was amazed at the enthusiasm for our space administration and the amount of people that were truly on board its mission. “NASA’s bold pursuit of space exploration held the power not only to send people further out in the solar system, but also to bring them together right here on Earth,” writes Gerardi. “I set out to explore Earth and I discovered space.”
The rest is history.
Gerardi’s book cover paints a 21st century portrait heading toward a brilliant future. Sporting a Final Frontier Design spacesuit – after testing it in microgravity research environments – her bright and beautiful smile reflect the confidence, courage and kindness of a true future space settler. I can’t help but believe that only someone with a distinct character and imagination like hers, can navigate and lead such bold space missions. There is a selection process after all. Imagine brainstorming the initiative to reinvent the Commercial Spaceflight Federation message into the 21st century soon after graduating film school, and moving to Washington D.C to lead it. The year of 2012 was also a time when CSF was ready to break the industry even more from old standards and propel commercial human spaceflight into reality. Her job pitch to the CSF emphasized the general public’s role in a new commercial pursuit and in the process, she launched one for herself too. This year she was also induced in the legendary Explorers Club as a Board of Directors member.”I had a new role and a title that fulfilled the wildest of my Star Trek dreams: media specialist of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation,” writes Gerardi.
The two worlds of science fiction and non-fiction mirrored perfectly on the same platform.
I will have to acknowledge that I took a chance on reading Gerardi’s book. When I first browsed to her exciting Instagram during the virtual Humans to Mars 2020 Summit, I wanted to learn more about who the social media star in the Mars orange spacesuit was. An influencer star title which she highly prides herself in, especially in 2020. However, contrary to her trajectory so far, we have been seeded to believe that an engineering degree or PhD is always the solution that leads to credible research and discovery. Yet history and the present prove that wrong with passing time. Her bold imagination and accomplishments in the past decade could fill a book, and now they do.
Gerardi successfully lobbied for, and produced, the ‘Exploration & Technology’ theme during the prestigious 110th Explorers Club Annual Dinner in 2014. An evening when both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos each shared a stage to receive their awards. Musk was celebrated with the President’s Award for revolutionizing space exploration and Bezos with a Citation of Merit for recovering the historic Apollo 11 engines from the depths of the Bermuda Triangle’s Atlantic Ocean. Before the dinner Gerardi also traveled to meet the evening’s Keynote Speaker Stephen Hawking in Cambridge, whose recorded message she produced and decoded, delighted to finally use her filmmaking degree, and in unimaginable ways too. The smile on Hawking’s face by the end of the video confirmed Gerardi’s vision. After nominating a new cast of honorees to be recognized as part of the Club, she found herself on stage standing between her mentor astronaut Mike Lopez-Alegria, Buzz Aldrin, The Crown Prince of Bhutan Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Elon Musk.
Elon Musk, an immigrant visionary who has taken the road less traveled and is changing life as we know it on Earth and beyond.
From a hard-working press release machine, Gerardi also switched roles to become a Scientist-Astronaut Candidate with Project PoSSUM, having flown various microgravity research campaigns as a payload specialist. Part of the Mars Research Desert Station international crew, she lived for weeks in a challenging 1,200 sq. ft. space settlement in the red rock mountains of Utah, successfully adapting in Mars like conditions to the last bone in her body. The crew opted for a real-life simulation too. The only exception to connect with the outside world, would have been a medical emergency. Thankfully that never happened, but they did have to maximize their water conservation skills and invent new gadgets that ensured their survival. Something not very different from the challenges and needs we face on Earth every day.
What a bold footprint to follow in!
Not surprisingly, her flights weren’t always smooth. As expected, turbulence mostly hits at lower altitudes. Various “journalists” twisted headlines and ‘The View’ talk show clouded her message beyond description. She only cites Whoopy Goldberg as an exception during the interview, a star trekking open minded veteran herself. Other members, among them a reality television housewife, hit with questions and comments to no avail. It is important to briefly note these lesser discussion elements. They open our eyes to learn what not to do, especially when so much is at stake for humanity’s progress and survival. So much of it too will write the next pages of our history books, like we are doing now.
Going back to our own journalistic journey, at the beginning we climbed to the altitudes of mass communication that humanity deserves. The responsibility of journalism to dissect and communicate that message is more crucial now than ever in the realm of space exploration. As journalism textbooks remind each young generation, especially one such as ours with a specialty on fast typing digital platforms, comments and posts are published forever. The famous advice says to “write it only if you would be proud to see it published on the first page of the New York Times.” Gerardi certainly would be. Her brilliant mirror reflects accomplishment, hope and a refreshing IQ. It is inspiring to believe that we will all follow in her footsteps, to improve ourselves and our industries, to accelerate and communicate the progress of the commercial space industry and democratize it, as she emphasizes many times in her book. Then to breathe and ask ourselves: can we keep up the pace on this gold-medal space marathon and pass on her precious baton?
“We’re holding the baton of survival that has passed through the hands of 10,000 generations of humans before us. Too many times throughout history has that baton almost dropped and the spark of life been extinguished. But at each baton fumble, another hand swooped in to secure it. Sometimes that hand belonged to an engineer, inventing tools to advance us or medical breakthroughs to heal us; other times the hand belonged to an artist, creating the language to connect us or the culture to civilize us. Encore! The survival of our species has always depended on a diversity of talent and contributions, and damned if we’re going to let the baton drop on our watch,” writes Gerardi.
She humbly mirrors herself in one of the first chapters for embodying a less artistic vision to create the story that would have brought her film degree career to a full circle. Maybe she’s right; maybe her talent flourishes on building the message. As she says, it is more operational in nature but with plenty of magic behind the scenes. Yet Gerardi is on the right side of history, like a perfectly timed compass pointing to the true North. Fully equipped, she plays the lead role in the greatest story ever told. How many of her film school classmates and professors could have imagined that?
Not Necessarily Rocket Science
A Beginner’s Guide to Life in the Space Age
Ever wondered what it’s like to work in outer space? In this candid science memoir and career guide, Gerardi offers an inside look into the industry beginning to eclipse Silicon Valley. Whether you have a space science degree or are looking to learn about stars, Not Necessarily Rocket Science proves there’s room for anyone who is passionate about exploration.
What it’s like to be a woman in space. With a space background and a mission to democratize access to space, this female astronaut candidate offers a front row seat to the final frontier. From her adventures training for Mars to testing spacesuits in microgravity, this unique handbook provides inspiration and guidance for aspiring astronauts everywhere.