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Monday, June 25, 2012

Getting Ready For A Trip Into Space

Justin Dowd at Here & Now studios at WBUR in Boston. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Unlike most 22 year-olds, Justin Dowd has always been confident that one day, he would go to space. He just didn’t think it would be this soon.

A Worcester, Mass. native and a physics and math major at Northeastern University, Dowd is the winner of an international competition dubbed “Race for Space.” His prize is a 90 minute trip aboard a private space plane called an XCOR Lynx in 2014, when he will become one of the world’s first civilian astronauts.

Justin will spend two weeks training for the flight, which takes off from a base on the Dutch-controlled island of Curacao. He will train in a military grade jet and a simulator in the Netherlands in order to become accustomed to the G-forces and weightlessness that he will experience during the flight and in space. The space plane Justin will be traveling in is capable of flying up to 110 km above the earth’s surface, just above the height of 100 km that is generally considered the edge of outer space.

Winning The Trip Through ‘Chalkimation’

Justin’s winning entry in the contest, held earlier this year by Metro World News Magazine in conjunction with the private Dutch company, Space Expedition Corporation, included a video that explains Einstein’s theory of relativity using stop-motion chalk animation, or “chalkimation.”

The video, which also features original music, took a month of steady work in Justin’s parent’s basement and over 3000 unique pictures. If nothing else, he says, remember two things about relativity: “Time is not constant. It changes depending on where you are and how you’re moving, and space is the same way.”

Space Travel Will Only ‘Get Cheaper And Cheaper’

Dowd has always felt sure he’d get a chance to go up to space because as private companies turn their attention to space travel, it’s becoming more feasible for regular people to take a trip for tourism.

“The tourism aspect… is really a stepping stone. There’s only going to be more spaceships built, and [private companies] are going to use the profits to make bases,” he told Here and Now‘s Robin Young“Space travel is going to be very accessible and it’s only going to get cheaper and cheaper.”


  • Justin Dowd, Northeastern University

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  • Beez

    Congratulations to Justin. I hope this experience propels your career to unprecendented heights!

  • Maggie

    Would you have him back to read poetry?

  • Guest

    If i spent my life in an elevator moving up fast and then descending slowly, would I age slower?

    • Rich Morrisey

       Sure, but then you would have spent half your life in an elevator :(, what’s the point?

    • Bobsie

       I think you would be thin on the way up and fat on the way down

  • Info

    That’s going to be a great experience for him, and I’m definitely jealous (in a good natured way). But I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call him an “astronaut” just because he gets to fly 65 miles up, even if it might technically be “space”.

    It’s sometimes hard even to consider those who spend time in low orbit as astronauts, since they aren’t really going anywhere. Yes, I know that technically they are spending time is space. But the Moon, Mars…now those are destinations worthy of an “astronaut”! Low orbit would be a fun trip, don’t get me wrong, but compared to all the other stuff out there, it’s just kind of “meh”.

    Still, I guess you have to start somewhere. Getting out of our deep gravity well is at least half the battle won.

  • George

    He needs to go near the speed of light then come back in 100 years and then be on the show ‘Here and Then’.

    • Bobsie


      • George

         If he traveled near the speed of light he wouldn’t age so he could come back and be on the show that used to be called “Here and Now” but because it’s the future and they’d be talking about people from the past, they’d call it “Here and Then” – get it – time slows down  when you are moving relative to where you left?

  • George

    Only slight problem was with the statement of 200,000 mph being enough to slow down time significantly. It would need to be at least 200,000 miles/minute! But other than that it was a great job!

  • Simple Mind

    Loved his comment about the differing opinions of his
    parents…Mom not quite as excited as Dad.  I’m with his Mom, but then I
    hate to fly…period.  No matter how it
    is presented, I cannot wrap my brain around a chunk of heavy metal going up and
    returning down safely.  But congrats to
    Justin and his remarkable mind!

  • Studi

    Very well executed short film which explained the concept. Justin, decide if you’re going to be a film-maker or a physicist. Didn’t need the pregnant pauses, nor the overly dramatic music, but that is nitpicking. Great job, have a good flight!

  • Carl

    Justin mentioned he has plans to create a website devoted
    to information re. space travel. I hope it will include a thorough assessment
    of the potential threats haphazard development of space tourism may pose for
    our climate. Jeff Foust, at spacereview.com has estimated that a typical suborbital flight will
    generate three metric tons of carbon dioxide per flight per passenger. Compare
    that with the U.S.
    per capita carbon emissions of 17.5 metric tons for an entire
    year.  To further
    complicate matters, Martin Ross, of The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.
    coauthored an article published in Geophysical Research Letters, that maintains
    an even greater impact on our climate is likely to result from the soot emitted
    at such high altitudes.  Coverage of the
    potential for space tourism by NPR and the BBC has been postitively
    doting.  They have both been completely
    remiss in any critical examination of the possible downside that this new form
    of entertainment for the superrich may have for the earth’s climate.

    • Guest

       Don’t worry too much, it’s going to cost a whole lot of money for a long time and the first time something goes wrong, demand for this will go WAY down! It’ll be 100 years before you get to fly for $50K (except maybe for the sub-orbital stuff that will lose its appeal pretty quick) .

  • Deb

    Still confused, but learned something anyway

  • George

    Shows the kind of ideas people might have if they just get off the internet for a while and find a quiet place to actually THINK every day!

  • Michael Russell

    Good work Justin.

  • Kayzwegner

    Justin Dowd is an example of an enthusiastic youth that will carry on the love, curiosity, and passion for science.  He should be an inspiration to other young people with a dying curiosity of how and why things work.  The video is so well done.  Hooray and congratulations.

  • Guest

    Would like to see Justin go into science journalism. There are so few journalists who understand science and technology.

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