No one from Newfoundland and Labrador has ever travelled to outer space. One woman born and raised in St. John’s is determined to change to this.
Bethany Downer, 24, is the first Newfoundland candidate to be accepted by Polar Suborbital Science into the Upper Mesosphere’s (PoSSUM), scientist-astronaut program. The program begins with webinar and a few weeks later hands-on training in Florida. The program offers specialized training, and eventually, Downer hopes to become a crew member on a spaceflight.
“To help towards the cost of me attending this training, I have set up a GoFundMe campaign, and any leftover funds will be used towards the development of a space education program for the province,” Downer said in an email when she returned to St. John’s, after being away for two years.
Bethany is the first Newfoundland candidate to be accepted into the PoSSUM scientist-astronaut program.
Downer describes her success as making her feel “excited, anxious, grateful.”
Downer added that both her Bachelor of Science, from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and her 2017 Master in Space Studies at International Space University, in France, prepared her for the space industry; it is diverse and requires “a breadth of knowledge that was as broad as possible.”
Downer is the founder and communicator in her company, Reaching Space Science, and she has been hired by several space companies and agencies as well as universities to work in the area of communications and education for space topics. Downer strives to explain space topics, findings, news, etc. to the public through her work. “This is what I truly enjoy doing,” she said.
“I was lucky to witness a NASA Shuttle launch with my family while on vacation to Florida in 2007,” Downer added. “Witnessing this made me realize that there is nothing quite like the space industry that captures my fascination. Since then, I’ve always tried to catch live streams of launches online, wherever in the world they are taking place.”
According to Downer, there are other reasons why space interests her.
Things that stand out in terms of milestones along this adventure include meeting and talking with Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield.
“Things that stand out in terms of milestones along this adventure, so far include meeting and talking with Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, being accepted to the International Space University, and now my selection to PoSSUM,” Downer said.
Although Downer has won many awards in her journey to reach outer space she said, “I do not define myself in any way by these awards. To me, I am most rewarded by speaking with you people who are interested in space or other STEM topics, [and] having stimulating discussions with those of different backgrounds within the space industry.”
Does Downer see herself as an overachiever? Downer summed it up by saying, “No. I think anyone, and everyone can work towards things they wish to achieve. ”
Downer said she has “a supportive network of family and friends” and is driven “to set a strong example for others, particularly young women.”