Illustration of cows in a barnyard being taken up by a UFO
Courtesy Neon Squid Books
Space Age Whiz Kid

Meet Joalda Morancy, AB’22, children’s author and aerospace engineer.

The summer before Joalda Morancy, AB’22, started high school, they were clicking around on YouTube when a cooking video caught their attention. It explained how to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich … on the International Space Station.

“I remember being super confused yet very intrigued,” Morancy says. “The next thing I knew, I was falling down a spiral of research and discovery in the topic that would become my lifelong passion.”

During the pandemic Morancy had more free time than usual, so they started sharing their obsessive research about various scientific topics on Twitter, with obvious enthusiasm and plentiful exclamation points. There were threads about space elevators: “Many of us have been on a regular elevator, but imagine one that takes you from the surface of the Earth to the cosmos above. Cool, right?”

About time travel: “Every moment of our lives we are traveling through time, but how do we go about controlling where in the future or past we want to go?”

About wormholes: “One of the coolest concepts when it comes to high energy astrophysics, and I am here to tell you exactly why that is.”

And for fun, something “that absolutely no one asked for,” a thread on actor Donald Glover “as different planets in our solar system” (wearing a blue-and-green patterned shirt for Earth, a bright orange suit for Mars, etc.).

Their most popular thread was about terraforming Mars: “You may have heard about this in movies, but how would we really do it?”

Joalda Morancy, AB'22
The book’s cover and its author. (Photo courtesy Joalda Morancy, AB’22)

A few months after Morancy began tweeting, an editor from Neon Squid, an imprint of Macmillan, asked if they would be interested in writing a children’s book. Morancy drafted the book in about eight months—much of it during the academic year. “It was stressful,” they say, “but I still enjoyed it.”

The book, called simply Aliens, was published in the fall of 2022, when Morancy was a fourth-year. Aimed at readers ages 8 to 10, Aliens is “a well-constructed, fact-filled look at the ongoing search for outer-space life,” according to Kirkus Reviews.

The writing in Aliens is as concise and engaging as Morancy’s tweets: “How did our home planet transform from a hot ball of rock to the blue marble we know and love today?” reads the spread about Earth. “Let’s rewind to 4.5 billion years ago.” Morancy also contributed ideas for the illustrations, such as the dairy cow being abducted by aliens while the rest of the herd looks on in puzzlement (above).

Morancy, who graduated with a degree in astronomy and astrophysics, now works at Blue Origin, the aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos. An aerospace engineer, they test avionics for Blue Origin’s lunar lander program.

In their spare time they are working on two science fiction projects. One, with the working title “Nordström’s Descendants,” is a dark academia novel about a struggling grad student forced to study with a professor who “may or may not be a little bit evil,” they say. In the book, Morancy hopes to “make theoretical astrophysics accessible to the average reader,” which means “I have to understand all the different theories and the math involved.”

A second project, nameless as yet, is a historical fantasy set toward the end of the Scientific Revolution, on the cusp of the Enlightenment. Morancy’s inspiration is the “women and people of color within and outside the sphere of the Western world,” they say, whose contributions to the Scientific Revolution have been overlooked.

Morancy still posts prolifically on Twitter to more than 13,000 followers. “I’m about to start doing deep dives into quantum field theory, general relativity, and the Scientific Revolution,” they wrote at the beginning of June, “so consider my account insufferable for the next ~6 months–1 year.”