LAKELAND, Fla. — The family of an 11-year-old boy who recently died unexpectedly is putting forth the effort to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams of space travel.
Matthew Gallagher was an all-around great kid, his parents said. He never met a stranger and was your typical goofball of an 11-year-old older brother to his 8-year-old sister, Savannah. His parents, Cori, and Scott Gallagher, who is a U.S. Marine, said their son had an out-of-this-world personality.
"'[He] always made people smile," his mom, Cori, said. "He was also that friend that would be friends with anybody. No matter who you are, what type of person you were, if you had special needs or what age you were, it didn't matter to him."
Their lives were forever changed in May when his mother found him unresponsive in the middle of the night.
"It was just pure shock and panic — almost like it wasn't real," his mom explained. "You kind of expected to wake up and this wasn't happening and then after several hours it just hit and it was just an overwhelming experience and it's something nobody should ever have to go through."
Now, the family is trying to move forward the best way they know how by honoring their son's love for space with a sendoff to the moon through the memorial spaceflight company, Celestis.
“We are touched and saddened by Matthew’s story,” Celestis CEO and Co-Founder, Charles Chafer, said in a statement. “We are pleased to lend our support to his family’s call for assistance in making his memorial spaceflight a reality.”
Matthew was more than a space enthusiast. From about the age of 5, he knew he wanted to be an astronaut. He could tell you all about the moon phases, the different planets in the solar system and even knew the constellations dotted across the night sky. Even Matthew's teachers from years past knew about his admiration for space.
"He had season passes with my dad every Summer to Kennedy Space Center," Cori said. "He had a full-blown astronaut suit and wore it constantly."
Matthew even had the chance to have lunch with an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center a few years ago. It was one of Matthew's favorite moments, his parents said.
"I think he probably talked the astronaut's ear off," Cori laughed. "Because he just had so many questions and wanted to know so much information."
He dreamed of becoming a pilot for the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds and was obsessed with Warbirds, his mom said. He could tell you everything about airplanes and point out the different ones at airshows.
"He even started flying," his mom said. "He actually logged his first flight hours when we lived in Grand Prairie, Texas."
Their neighbor was a flight instructor who worked for NASA and studied aeronautical engineering. She would teach him how to fly so that he could jump-start his career in becoming a pilot.
His obsession with astronomy didn't stop there. Matthew was also a huge fan of Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX.
"Everything was SpaceX," his parents said.
The Gallagher family hopes they're able to pull off Matthew's moon mission. His cremated remains would be aboard Destiny, Celestis’ third Lunar flight and 26th overall mission. It's set to launch out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2023.
"Please help us make our little boy’s biggest dream come true by contributing to Matthew’s final mission to the moon," his dad, Scott, said in a statement.
The family's GoFundMe has a goal of $14,000. So far they've raised over $7,500. Many donors have been other Marines, military servicemen and women along with family and friends. While the lunar moon burial costs $12,500, Scott said the additional funds will cover what GoFundMe takes out of the total and help with travel for Matthew's final moon mission.
The Gallaghers are hopeful that the memorial spaceflight will bring them the closure they need to find a new normal without Matthew.
"It'll kind of almost give us a little bit of that healing that we need to move forward with our lives, without him, but in memory of him," his mom said. "Just knowing that no matter what, we can just look at the moon every night and I know that he's up there."
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to the family's GoFundMe account or would like to share the link, click here.