Kellie Gerardi: Scientist-Astronaut Candidate with Project PoSSUM
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Kellie Gerardi to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Kellie Gerardi: Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) is the first crewed suborbital research program, studying the upper atmosphere and how it relates to our understanding of global climate change. As a Scientist-Astronaut Candidate, I've trained for a very specific science mission to conduct research on noctilucent clouds in the upper mesosphere. These mysterious ice clouds are the highest clouds in Earth's atmosphere, and they're important to research because they've been implicated as potentially sensitive indicators of climate change.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
KG: The diversity in my training program has been staggering. With 4 men and 4 women, my crew achieved perfect gender parity, which was so refreshing in the space industry. I really believe that this is what the future of spaceflight looks like, and suborbital spaceflight will be the great equalizer, democratizing access to space for scientists around the world.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
KG: I originally had to postpone my Scientist-Astronaut training due to pregnancy. I ended up completing my training during my maternity leave, while my infant daughter stayed with my parents, and I had to wear Spanx under my flight suit!
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
KG: I brought my newborn to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch. When the sound barrier broke over my daughter's head yesterday, I realized that she has been born exactly at the beginning of a new era in space exploration, with so many people working together toward a shared dream of expanding humanity's footprint in the universe -- a dream that my daughter's generation will most certainly see realized.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
KG: I want young women to know that there’s a place for them in this industry, and in this next giant leap for humankind. Mars needs women!
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
KG: The next giant leaps of technology and discoveries in space will guide the future of our entire species, and that simply can't be an all-male conversation.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.