Race Through Space invites ‘run-stronauts” on an intergalactic journey

“Space race”—a 20th-century term for the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to achieve firsts in spaceflight capability—takes on a new meaning for participants on a virtual intergalactic journey designed by Science ATL, an Atlanta-based nonprofit created to make science accessible and fun for the general public.

In previous years, Science ATL has invited runners and walkers to participate in a 5K event scaled to represent the solar system with milestones distanced to suggest the distance between planets, explained Meisa Salaita, co-executive director of Science ATL.

Science ATL, according to its website, “brings people together through the wonder of science.” Founded in 2014 as Atlanta Science Festival Inc. by Emory University, Georgia Tech and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the organization changed its name to Science ATL Inc. in 2019. It now sponsors events throughout the year, including its annual race.

This year—because of the COVID-19 pandemic—the race will be virtual with participants running or walking in a space of their choosing instead of gathering for an event. Also, instead of symbolically traveling the solar system, participants in Science ATL’s Race Through Space – Galaxy Edition will “boldly go where it hasn’t before, allowing participants to visit other galaxies by running millions of light years in what feels like 5 kilometers,” Salaita said.

Race Through Space – Galaxy Edition, sponsored by Randstad and produced in partnership with Emory University and the Georgia Space Grant Consortium, is a 5K run scaled to replicate an intergalactic journey 54.8 million light years long. “When using the app, runners listen as a narrator guides them through space, sprinkling science-centric humor along the way and bringing the funny. Starting at the Milky Way, runners and walkers travel nearly 9,000 light years with each step,” Salaita said.

A light year—a measure of distance, not time—is a unit indicating the distance light travels in one year. Because light travels in a vacuum at 186,282 miles a second, a light year is the equivalent of almost six trillion miles.

“Participants use their smartphones to display actual images of the various heavenly bodies they pass, including the Andromeda Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy. The result is an educational, entertaining race like no other,” according to Salaita. As participants reach each point of interest, the narrator gives them information about that place.

“It’s really a lot of fun. You don’t have to have a deep knowledge of or interest in science to enjoy this run. In fact, education is one of our goals. The narration is light and funny with the narrator saying such things as ‘These stars don’t need Botox to stay hot.’”

Beginning Oct. 15, runners and walkers can download the free app, developed with Atlanta-based Winnona Partners, and participate in an interactive virtual road race and outer space exploration adventure,” said Salaita, adding that while the “event” is Oct. 17, participants can use the app any time after it becomes available.

“Once they download the app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play, participants can run or walk the Race Through Space – Galaxy Edition anytime, or join hundreds of other ‘run-stronauts’ the weekend of October 17 for Virtual Race Through Space Day to complete the journey to a black hole,” she said. “Participants can share their race time on social media and invite friends to join the adventure.”

Salaita said the goals of the event are exercise, fun and greater appreciation for science and those who study it. “We want people to see scientists not as stuffy people in white lab coats, but explorers learning more about the world we live in. Unfortunately, there is trend recently of discounting science. We want people to gain an appreciation for science and see the value in making evidence-based decisions. With our app, we’re able to combine science, education, humor, and fitness into one exciting experience.”

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