Destiny was on NASA’s mind as they issued a call to all explorers and asteroid hunters in late August 2014, seeking their participation in public forums to provide feedback on how the agency is doing with the Asteroid Initiative. They invited the public to offer their opinions on space exploration, the value of the missions and the relative importance of its goals and objectives. The opinion poll is an attempt to get the public directly involved in the asteroid missions currently in progress at NASA. The space agency’s request for input gives citizens a voice to influence the future of the Asteroid Initiative and be part of saving the planet from disaster.
After launching the Asteroid Redirect Mission and the Asteroid Grand Challenge as part of the initiative in 2013, NASA began seeking ways to engage in public forums with private citizens on the agency’s space exploration efforts and the hunt for dangerous asteroids destined for Earth. They wanted to raise the citizen voice above the background noise in the conversations about detecting asteroids and the destiny of the mission to protect the earth against deadly impacts. After taking proposals, NASA chose Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) to lead the discussion. ECAST is a partnership of reputable universities, science museums and private science organizations that specialize in technology assessment.
ECAST is appealing to adventure seekers by offering space enthusiasts a tangible venue to touch a destiny bigger than themselves. The ECAST website urges citizens to bring thoughts and questions to the discussion regarding the economics of harvesting asteroids, the impact of asteroid research in expediting the Mars missions and the tricky balance of cost, risk and reward for humans in space exploration. The goal is to for scientists and citizens to work together to better detect asteroid threats and send out the message that the Earth is defended from impact and reentry disasters such as occurred with the Chelyabinsk meteor in the Ural Mountains region of Russia in 2013.
ECAST will host forums for active dialogue with mainstream civilians during the fall of 2014. They aim for the tone of the conversations to be thought-provoking, well-mannered and knowledgeable. Live sessions will take place in Boston and Phoenix in mid-November and space is limited. Therefore, those wishing to participate should visit the ECAST website to apply. Participants in the live forums will receive a $100 stipend.
Those who cannot attend the in-person events have the opportunity to give feedback online. After completing a demographic form to give NASA a clear picture of the diversity of their sample population and a preliminary opinion questionnaire, contributors will be able to access the project content and express their thoughts on the destiny of the Asteroid Initiative and space exploration. Once the discussion is complete, participants will fill out a post-forum questionnaire to help ECAST and NASA assess the impact of the conversations on people’s thinking about issues in space exploration. Online participants will not receive any payment. However, they stress that everyone’s opinion is valuable and everyone is welcome in the online forums. The minimum age for both live and online sessions is 18.
The chance to influence NASA’s work and vision of the future may seem like a privilege reserved for rocket scientists and astronauts. However, NASA’s invitation to join the public forum discussions gives private citizens a real voice to affect the shape of the space agency’s Asteroid Initiative policy and the destiny of future space exploration. For some, the opportunity may perhaps even act out dreams of heroism by giving them a small part in saving the planet. Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator at NASA, encourages asteroid hunters, assuring them that their role and feedback in helping the agency seek out and characterize the space-borne threats to Earth provides valuable contributions to helping their scientists achieve the destiny of solving a global dilemma.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser