NASA, ASU partner to engage citizens in space exploration

August 27, 2014

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 human exploration in space? Astronaut taking a sample from an asteroid Download Full Image

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

An innovative project between NASA 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 such topics as planetary defense strategies, how to detect threatening asteroids and why the exploration of asteroids is part of the future of human space exploration.

“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.”

The 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 dialogue 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 ASU 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 at ASU, the Museum of Science, Boston and 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 ... 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 science, technology and related policy.”

For more information on the project or to sign up to receive updates visit

Marissa Huth

communications specialist, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


Center presents film series on justice, religion and peace

August 27, 2014

A Palestinian father’s moving gesture of peace, an intimate story of the 2002 Gujarat riots in India, an account of the election of a military dictator in Chile and a look at the Egyptian revolution through the eyes of six protesters.

These are the stories that will be presented in the peace studies film series hosted by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict this September. Peace Studies Film Series - September 2014 Download Full Image

The films highlight issues of justice, people’s struggle, religion and peace, and each screening of these four acclaimed films will be followed by a discussion led by a distinguished faculty member with expertise in the subject matter of the film.

The series was developed by Yasmin Saikia, the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the center, and professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

“I want my students to understand peace as more than just an ideal,” says Saikia. “I believe that these films and discussions with faculty can be an interesting way to get people talking and thinking about the complexities of peacemaking.”

All four screenings will be shown in West Hall, room 135, from noon to 2:30 p.m. The films and faculty experts include:

"Heart of Jenin" - Wednesday, Sept. 3

  • This documentary is the story of a Palestinian boy shot by Israeli soldiers. His father donates his son's organs to Israeli children as a gesture of peace, and then later travels through Israel to meet the children he has helped and their families.
  • Faculty expert: Amit Ron, associate professor of political science, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

"Parzania" – Thursday, Sept. 4

  • "Parzania" is based on the true story of a 10-year-old boy who disappeared during the 2002 Gujarat riots in India. The film tells the story of the riots, and traces the journey of a family trying to locate their missing son.
  • Faculty expert: Yasmin Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the center, and professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

"No" – Wednesday, Sept. 10

  • In 1988, Chile voted on military dictator Augusto Pinochet extending his rule for another eight years. This Oscar-nominated film, starring Gael García Bernal, details how opposition leaders devised an audacious plan to win the election.
  • Faculty expert: Daniel Rothenberg, Professor of Practice, School of Politics and Global Studies

"The Square" – Thursday, Sept. 11

  • "The Square" is a documentary that tells the story of the ongoing struggle of the Egyptian Revolution through the eyes of six very different protesters. It follows a life-changing journey through the euphoria of victory into the uncertainties and dangers of the current period.
  • Faculty expert: Chad Haines, assistant professor, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

These events are supported by the Hardt-Nickachos Peace Studies Endowment within the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. The goal of the Hardt-Nickachos Peace Studies Endowment is to heighten faculty and student awareness of peace studies as an academic field of inquiry, and its significance and relevance as an approach to engaging the most challenging problems of our age.

The film series is open to the public. To learn more or to reserve a seat, please visit the center’s website.