Bethany Downer is one of 10 alumni-millennials featured in a recent issue of Luminus who are storming out of the gate – with a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship fuelled at Memorial. Check out the Gazette for a new profile every day until Aug. 23.
Bethany Downer, B.Sc.’16, has always had an “inherent interest” in space — but during her master’s program at the International Space University in France she really found her niche.
“I’ve come to develop a passion for outreach, teaching and explaining the value of what space activities are,” she says. “I hate that the concept of “rocket science” is used as a joke for things that people can’t understand. It can turn them away from such a cool and awesome industry.”
It’s not the average communications gig: Ms. Downer’s work allows her to attend space events, stay up-to-date with the latest news, technology and science — and filter it down into accessible language. She has freelanced for various space companies and runs the website ReachingSpaceScience.com.
In September 2018 Ms. Downer took yet another impressive step in her space career: she was selected as Newfoundland and Labrador’s first scientist-astronaut candidate.
She’s started flight and simulations training at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and has started training for possible space travel in suborbital planes (travel into near space, but not into orbit) and science and research methods.
“The answers we search for in space are answers to humanity’s biggest problems.”
“I can start framing my next steps around how to best continue outreach and education activities throughout this training process,” she says, already looking forward to further skill-specific training beyond the introductory program.
“It will be a many-year-long journey from here — as, of course, practising for space science collection and space travel takes time.”
She can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s such an exciting time for the space industry . . . The answers we search for in space are answers to humanity’s biggest problems — the research we’re doing affects us every day, in medicine, robotics, energy use, everything.”
In October 2018 Ms. Downer was named Memorial’s youngest-ever recipient of the Horizon Award, an Alumni Tribute Award that recognizes outstanding achievement among alumni 35 years of age and younger.