This is a Citizens Forum for NASA’s Asteroid Initiative. 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 asteroids? How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? Could asteroid exploration be used to boost our capabilities and help clear a pathway to Mars? How should we balance costs, risks, and benefits of human exploration 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: allow anyone, anywhere, to have a say in decisions about the future of space exploration. The project held three forums in November and is now recruiting participants for the online discussion scheduled to take place between January and February. Participants in this phase will assign pros and cons to recommendations and statements generated at the three forums. Discussions cover topics from how to detect threatening asteroids and how to defend against them to strategies for human exploration of asteroids and the space beyond the moon. 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. ECAST is a network of different institutions, launched in 2010 to provide a 21st 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. The report and assessments from the forums will provide input to guide the initiative’s direction and related public engagement activities.
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