Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

August 28, 2014
This is a concept using robotic arms to retrieve a boulder from the surface of an asteroid. Credit: Image courtesy of NASA

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts?

How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? What do we do if we find an asteroid that threatens Earth? How should we balance costs, risks, and benefits of in space?

Sounds like stuff just for rocket scientists. But how would you like to be part of this discussion?

An innovative project between NASA (the US government's space agency) and a group led by Arizona State University called ECAST—Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology—is planning to do just that: give ordinary citizens a voice in the future of space exploration.

The "Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative" project will hold forums this fall to engage ordinary citizens in active dialogue about NASA's Asteroid Initiative. Discussion will cover topics from how to detect threatening asteroids, planetary defense strategies, and how the exploration of asteroids is part of the future of .

An asteroid sample retrieval. Credit: NASA

"Public engagement is crucial to the effective development of science and technology policy," said David Guston, Co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO), one of the founding members of ECAST. "It is essential to consider input from diverse constituents, and nowhere are citizens' values, hopes and dreams more important than in the future of the planet and the future of humans in space." 1The citizen forums will engage diverse publics in respectful, reflective and informed conversations, both face-to-face and online. The goal is to enable participants to learn about such issues, develop their own questions, and make recommendations based on their own values and interests.

Jason Kessler, Asteroid Grand Challenge and LAUNCH Program Executive at NASA, said "These forums are a direct result of the Asteroid Initiative Request for Information process—ECAST submitted a proposal that was highly ranked and well received at the 2013 Asteroid Initiative Workshop. This is the next step in public engagement, allowing us to directly engage in a meaningful two-way dialog and provide valuable insight for continued planning of the Asteroid Initiative."

ECAST is a network of different institutions, launched in 2010, to provide a 21st Century model for technology assessment. It combines the research strengths of universities like Arizona State University with the skills of nonpartisan policy research organizations and the education and outreach capabilities of science museums and citizen science programs. "Science museums have a long history of making complex science topics interesting and accessible to public audiences. With the help of our ECAST partners we've developed the techniques to give lay publics the opportunity to consider the societal impacts of scientific and technological advances and to share their views with the experts. We are excited to be able to do this for NASA's Asteroid Initiative," said Larry Bell, Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Museum of Science in Boston.

Three of the five ECAST founding partners, the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) at ASU, the Museum of Science, Boston and SciStarter.com are working with NASA to design, convene and evaluate citizen forums in Phoenix and Boston, and also online. The in person forums will each comprise about 100 demographically diverse participants selected to be representative of the two geographies. The online forum will be open to all and representative of diverse geographies. The report and assessments from the forums will provide input to the asteroid initiative and ideas for future asteroid-related public engagement activities.

"Citizen science connects people with varied interests, from nature lovers to Makers, to engage in civic and science activities," said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter. "With NASA's Asteroid Initiative, we are expanding the scope of citizen science to also empower people who want to be part of conversations and developments shaping , technology and related policy."

Explore further: NASA announces Asteroid Grand Challenge

More information: For more information on the project or to sign up to receive updates visit ecastonline.org

Related Stories

NASA selects top 96 asteroid initiative ideas

September 5, 2013

NASA has chosen 96 ideas it regards as most promising from more than 400 submitted in response to its June request for information (RFI) about protecting Earth from asteroids and finding an asteroid humans can explore.

NASA hosts workshop to discuss asteroid initiative ideas

September 30, 2013

NASA will host a public workshop to examine and synthesize 96 of the ideas submitted to a Request for Information (RFI) about the agency's asteroid initiative. The workshop will be held Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 at the Lunar and ...

Recommended for you

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.