ASU-led partnership engages citizens in NASA's Asteroid Initiative

September 28, 2015

How can humans best protect the Earth from a potentially devastating asteroid impact? Could our ability to study an asteroid assist with both planetary defense and sending humans farther into our solar system? Once humans have advanced their space-exploration capacities, what should a future mission to Mars look like?

Making the public part of discussions such as these is the result of an innovative partnership between NASA and a network led by ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO). That partnership solicited non-expert citizens' opinions on the NASA's future missions as a way to directly engage the public in the space agency's plans. A public report about the program, which describes the process and its outcomes, has recently become available for download. Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A Citizen's Forum Download Full Image

At two public full-day forums in Boston and Phoenix last November, citizens participated in public deliberations, or “participatory technology assessment,” to learn about, discuss and share their views on several NASA missions. The forums focused on three topics: planetary defense, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and mission scenarios for a journey to Mars. Their input was gathered and delivered to NASA.

"This new way of engaging with the public offers gives ordinary people a chance to learn about and offer their perspectives on important policy decisions," noted David Guston, the director of ASU’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the principle investigator on this project. "Decision makers gain insight into what is important for the citizens whose support they need. In this case, NASA received input for its future missions that will help the agency respond to both the concerns and excitement the public has about space exploration."

CSPO is a founding member of the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) network, a group of universities, science centers and nonpartisan think tanks. In leading the ECAST team’s efforts, CSPO collaborated with the Museum of Science Boston and worked closely with NASA managers to host the two forums.

Participants at the daylong forums voiced strong support for implementing space-based asteroid-detection efforts. They indicated a preference for the ARM scenario that involved retrieving a boulder from a large asteroid and bringing it into orbit around the moon for study. And, for the Mars mission, participants balanced cost, schedule and risk in favor of first sending humans into orbit around the Red Planet, along with robotic exploration and potential Mars moon missions.

This project, building on CSPO’s efforts to bring public values into science and technology policymaking, elicited nuanced information from citizens that, as NASA discovered, can be extremely useful for robust decision making.

Preliminary results from the deliberations were shared with NASA managers prior to their ARM decision. In early 2015, NASA announced the ARM option it would pursue — the same mission that forum participants favored by a wide margin. ECAST also performed a detailed analysis of the results, as described in the technical report that was recently provided to NASA, which gives the space agency new knowledge of citizens’ perceptions to consider when planning future missions.

CSPO’s work on the NASA-ECAST project has laid the groundwork for additional engagement programs. Earlier this year, CSPO organized the U.S. component of the World Wide Views on Climate and Energy, a global citizen forum on addressing climate change. The results from those deliberations were just presented to the UN General Assembly in New York. In addition, CSPO and the Museum of Science Boston have recently been awarded a multi-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use that agency's considerable scientific assets to foster climate resilience in communities around the United States.

Jason Lloyd

Program manager, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


Global health alum helps fund health, humanitarian work in South Africa

September 29, 2015

Six years ago, Mackenzie Cotlow received the first bachelor’s degree in global health awarded by Arizona State University.

The program — which mixes a holistic understanding of today’s complex health issues with a social justice component — was a natural for Cotlow, who was looking for an education that would help her achieve her dream of bettering the world. Mackenzie Cotlow Mackenzie Cotlow, who was the first to receive a bachelor's in global health from Arizona State University, is putting her degree to work promoting Doctors Without Borders in South Africa. Download Full Image

Since graduating, she has realized that dream by moving to South Africa to work for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), one of the best-known humanitarian organizations in the world.

As a fundraising consultant, Cotlow educates the public about the 5.7 million-member-strong organization and works to bring new donors into the fold. Though the work is challenging and involves long hours, she said the successes make it worthwhile.

“It’s really special and exciting being a part of such a powerful NGO (non-government organization), capable of so much good and so much change,” she said. “What is so special about advocating for joining our donor family in South Africa especially is that donors have the potential to be the beneficiaries. Solidarity is something I truly believe in.”

Before coming to South Africa, Cotlow spent a year and a half in South Korea teaching English to students of all ages in a multicultural environment.

Though her passion for helping others is innate, she traces her penchant for seeing the world to her time in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Part of the school's global health curriculum is a study abroad requirement, which she fulfilled in Fiji and New Zealand.

There, she was given real-world opportunities to learn about local health and environmental issues during a home stay with a New Zealand farming family and work with Fijian villagers. One of the highlights was helping develop sustainable health solutions for indigenous communities.

“Seeing as how it was the first time I had gone overseas, it completely and utterly changed my life and literally opened up a whole new world for me,” Cotlow said. “I think the biggest part of this experience was simply that I realized the world is big, it’s full of amazing people and places and the potential for learning is immense.”

Fondly remembering her time at ASU, Cotlow is appreciative of the many new experiences of her program and her globally minded professors, whom she calls “some of the most brilliant people” she has ever met. But what stands out the most is the host of international peers: interesting, smart people she is glad to still be friends with today.

Only two weeks ago, she checked in with one of those former fellow students — a Chilean, whom she worried about in the wake of the 8.3-magnitude earthquake off Chile’s coast.

“I suddenly felt like the world was so small. I was working to raise funds for earthquake and possibly tsunami victims, one of whom could have been my good college friend,” Cotlow said. “Thankfully, he’s all right.”

Cotlow credits her global health training with helping her learn how to connect with a diversity of people and break out of her sheltered shell to “fully embrace the wonderful and different aspects of what the world has to offer.”

This fall, Cotlow will indulge her thirst for travel once again with visits to Britain and France and eventually make her way back to the U.S., where she hopes to continue working for Medecins San Frontieres at its New York City location.

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change