Happy National Astronaut Day 2024! Holiday's founder talks importance of honoring America's spaceflyers (exclusive)

A colorful astronaut plays an electric guitar
A portion of the official logo for the Astronaut Rock Star Awards (Image credit: Uniphi Space Agency)

Happy National Astronaut Day 2024!

As the inspiring President and CEO of Uniphi Good, music industry fixture Annie Balliro has presided over her successful artist management and marketing firm since 2009 before branching out into Uniphi Space Agency, which has expanded into the nation's biggest private talent management firm for astronauts.  

Emboldened with the company's tagline of #webelieveinastronauts, Uniphi Good partners with corporations or institutions to advise NASA's intrepid homegrown heroes on navigating partnerships in media, film and television by creating a positive network of bridges between the worlds of space travel, music, and pop culture. 

In 2016, Balliro envisioned an opportunity to create a wellspring of astronaut recognition by launching National Astronaut Day. This special occasion is now observed every May 5 in salute to Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard's historic first spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961.

Related: Happy National Space Day 2024! Here's how 8 lucky kids can win a trip to Florida's Space Coast

Key art for National Astronaut Day 2024 and the Astronaut Rock Star Awards (Image credit: Uniphi Space Agency)

This year she's thrilled to spearhead the inaugural Astronaut Rock Star Awards, an evolving event that celebrates the unique intersection of astronauts and music, with real rock stars handing out awards in three categories to astronauts, individuals and organizations who are pillars of support and pioneering voices in space exploration and STEM/STEAM education. All winners will be announced on May 5, 2024.

Included in this debut year's list of victors are:

Astronaut Alan Shepard - First American in Space on May 5, 1961. Astronaut Wendy Lawrence will present this legacy award to Alan’s daughter Laura.

High schooler STEMist Yuridia Sanchez & 18-year-old Sophia Crowder, ITGirls girl-empowering initiative founder and beyond.

Former NASA Astronaut and Intuitive Machines executive Col. Jack D. Fischer, who oversaw the Odysseus ("Odie") lunar landing this year as part of the IM-1 mission in 2024. The IM-1 mission successfully landed the first spacecraft on the Moon's south pole region, marking the United States' first return since Apollo 17, as well as, the first private lunar lander on the Moon. 

Fischer’s award will be presented by rock greats O.A.R. at their Boston, MA show at Leader Bank Pavilion on July 20th, 2024 - in sync with the actual moon landing date from the Apollo 11 Mission in 1969, the first time a human walked on the Moon.

The Science Haven's initiative to provide 100 telescopes to 100 families across the U.S.

President and CEO of Uniphi Space Agency, Annie Balliro. (Image credit: Annie Balliro)

"We still continue to grow our roster at Uniphi Space to this day," Balliro tells Space.com. "We have almost 40 exclusive clients and we've worked with over one-hundred astronauts so far. It's a small family if you will. We consider ourselves as astronaut allies and advocates. That's what we're here for, really, to help navigate whatever request might come in, like book deals or endorsements, and to help them however much or however little they want to be active."

When Balliro originally launched Uniphi Space Agency there was no commercial space program or private astronaut program, so this was an entirely new concept.

"So now it's been such a ride because one of our clients, Michael Lopez-Alegria, has gone back to space twice and we've been a key part of that and it's really incredible to watch. When we first started this I don’t think people quite realized that some of our clients would then be going back to space so soon. Because of that we've been able to do some incredible collaborations because it's a very different twist when there's a private astronaut mission versus a government-type mission. So that's been a real honor to be able to work with not only the astronauts, but all the commercial space companies. We have our fingers and toes in a little bit of everything because now all of our astronauts work at all those companies. 

"As a girl from Swampscott whose dad would drive us down near Cape Canaveral and we'd stay in the trailer to watch rocket launches when I was five or six years old, and being always fascinated with the stars, to be in the presence of such individuals is incredible."

Key art for the inaugural Astronaut Rock Star Awards (Image credit: Uniphi Space Agency)

National Astronaut Day is now in its eighth year after kicking off at Space Symposium in 2016 with a core cadre of astronauts, Fisher Space Pen, and great enthusiasm.

"To get the support early on was very important," she explains. "National Astronaut Day is not going anywhere. It is now fully baked into the DNA of our culture which is exactly what we wanted. But we knew we had to take it to the next step so that's where the Astronaut Rock Star Awards came along. The truth of it is, if MTV can give astronauts to bands, why can't we give rock plaques to astronauts?

"The most gratifying part for me is feeling like we are creating something that will last forever I hope, that will always continue to honor and celebrate astronauts for generations to come. 

"And further amplify their platform so they can keep inspiring people and talk about things like the 'Overview Effect' or continue to help have space be the most beautiful example that international peace is possible, and continue to share stories about why science that happens in space is so important and does help those of us on Earth. It's a true honor."

For more info on National Astronaut Day 2024, the Astronaut Rock Star Awards and their upcoming presentations, visit them on social media and their official site

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.