When Kellie Gerardi rocketed into space on a Galactic 05 research mission with Virgin Galactic earlier this month, she was under strict orders from her then-5-year-old daughter Delta to be on the lookout for aliens. “I explained to her that it was very unlikely, but that I would keep an open mind,” the astronaut, author and popular science communicator tells Yahoo Life. Gerardi didn’t see any aliens on her suborbital space voyage, but she did surprise her daughter upon landing with an alien-themed keychain she’d packed before her trip.
Training to become an astronaut while being a mother to a young child has been challenging. Gerardi’s career has always been important to her, but her daughter is also “top of mind’ even when she’s orbiting the Earth. “Both of those spheres I care so deeply about,” she says. “And I’m very mission-driven on both sides.”
Gerardi knew even when she was pregnant that achieving a work-life balance would be impossible, instead, she’s tried to integrate her work and family life. That means staying in touch with Delta through FaceTime when traveling for work. She likes to read stories to Delta, who writes her notes and draws pictures so that they can stay connected, even when in different stratospheres. On her recent mission, Gerardi carried a handwritten note adorned with hearts from Delta, who wrote, “I love you, Mommy. I will be waving from Earth.” The note is “the most meaningful thing to me,” the proud mom says.
Gerardi and Delta also worked together to create Luna Muna, the star of a series of children’s books about a little girl who wears a glittery helmet and a pink uniform into space. Gerardi, who first thought of Luna Muna when she was making up bedtime stories for Delta, calls the character an “authentic representation of what was engaging to my daughter at the time.” Luna even beat her to space when astronaut Peggy Whitson read the first Luna Muna book from the International Space Station earlier this year.
As hard as Gerardi tries, work-life integration isn’t always possible. She was traveling during Delta’s 6th birthday, and couldn’t take her daughter and her friends trick or treating on Halloween because she was in training for her spaceflight. “I give myself a lot of grace and patience and really try to not hold guilt for pursuing all of the things that I’m passionate about because I would want that for Delta when she grows up,” she says.
When she has a couple of “hard-hitting weeks” at work she “makes corrective maneuvers” and goes “really heavy on family life and time,” Gerardi adds. Even though she wasn’t with Delta on her birthday, for instance, she made sure that her daughter had an epic Night at the Museum-themed birthday party at a local science museum. To make up for having to work on Halloween, she plans on going “overboard” for Christmas. It’s also important for her to be “really present and focused” when she’s at home.
Having a great child care team in place is also essential. “Grandma is the MVP of our household,” Gerardi says. “My mom has always been our backstop, in such a wonderful, nurturing and loving way.” Delta also goes to an after-school program and has a nanny who helps with her care. Gerardi says that her daughter has benefited from having so many around her who care for her. “I think it has given her just this even broader sense of love and security and relationship,” she says.
Space has been “part of the backdrop of [Delta’s] life since she was born” because both Gerardi and her husband work in the industry. But the mom disputes criticism accusing her of pushing “the space agenda” onto her kid. What Gerardi hopes she is modeling for Delta is “relentless, and guilt-free pursuance of passions in life, whatever those are.” Gerardi’s passion is space, but Delta already knows she can choose from a “buffet of options.”
And because she has seen her mother fly into space, Delta doesn’t think anything is impossible. “I get so excited to see the limitless imagination she has,” Gerardi says, “That’s so amazing and powerful.” She also tries to encourage all of Delta’s interests, which currently include paleontology and Taylor Swift. Gerardi herself embraces the “supernova of girl power” the singer represents and has used Delta’s interest in Swift to explore music and performance. “I get so much joy out of running down those rabbit holes with her,” she says of her daughter’s interests.
She also loves that Delta feels free to embrace the “fun, fanciful things” in addition to science, just like her mom, who wore makeup and friendship bracelets into space. “Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive — and they aren’t for me,” she says.
What’s next for the mission-making mom? More stories for the Luna Muna book series and plans to launch a line of space-themed clothing. Gerardi also hopes to return to space. But as exhilarating as that is, there’s no doubt what the “biggest adventure of my life” is: motherhood.
Gary Rose is a lifestyle connoisseur who celebrates the art of living well. She explores topics ranging from travel and fashion to home decor and culinary delights. Gary’s passion for aesthetics extends to her hobbies, which include photography and interior design.