Press Release

Innovative Study Supports Asteroid Initiative, Journey To Mars

By SpaceRef Editor
August 28, 2015
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Innovative Study Supports Asteroid Initiative, Journey To Mars

Innovation is a primary tool for problem solving at NASA. Whether creating new robotic spacecraft to explore asteroids or developing space habitats for our journey to Mars, innovative thinking is key to our success. NASA leads the federal government in cutting edge methods for conceptualizing and then executing America’s space exploration goals.

One example of NASA innovation is the agency’s work with the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) Network. The ECAST group provided a citizen-focused, participatory technology assessment of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, increasing public understanding of and engagement in the initiative while also providing the agency with new knowledge for use in planning our future missions.

“Participatory Exploration includes public engagement as we chart the course for future NASA activities, ranging from planetary defense to boots on Mars,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge within the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The innovative methodology for public engagement that the ECAST has given us opens new avenues for dialog directly with stakeholders across the nation, Americans who have and want to share their ideas with NASA on activities the agency is executing, now and in the future.”

In addition to formal “requests for information” or forums with industry for ideas, NASA employed ECAST to engage in a “participatory technology assessment,” an engagement model that seeks to improve the outcomes of science and technology decision-making through dialog with informed citizens. Participatory technology assessment involves engaging a group of non-experts who are representative of the general population but whounlike political, academic, and industry stakeholderswho are often underrepresented in technology-related policymaking.

The ECAST research focused on three topic areas planetary defense, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, and design scenarios for Mars. The research focused on drawing out the public’s thoughts and values surrounding these areas. Study participants voiced strong support for space-based observatories for asteroid detection and also support the design concept NASA has since chosen for the Asteroid Redirect Mission. In addition, the ECAST study presented multiple scenarios about how NASA could explore Mars, including different ways to balance cost, schedule and risk

During meetings in Phoenix and Boston in November, 2014, participants voiced their thoughts and preferences about asteroids, planetary defense and space exploration.

The NASA-ECAST project accomplished two main goals. The first was to develop participatory technology assessment as a method to elicit nuanced information from a diverse group of citizens, whose insights would not otherwise be available to decision makers. Second, through informed, structured feedback from Americans in locations around the nation, the project aimed to provide public views of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative to inform NASA decision makers. As one example, results from the participants’ deliberation on the Asteroid Redirect Mission were shared with NASA managers prior to making a mission concept choice earlier this year.

This innovative approach exposes NASA, through a third party, to new views the agency might otherwise not have access to opinions from Americans interested in the future of NASA exploration and our journey to Mars.

The ECAST-led discussions about NASA programs included the complex tradeoffs regarding costs, risks and benefits of various policy options. Study participants expressed nuanced and informed preferences about the options facing NASA as the agency seeks to advance our human and robotic exploration of space.

The final report  to NASA from ECAST has been posted online. NASA decision makers have evaluated the perspectives uncovered through this innovative approach and will consider the data, and this new approach to informed public participation in America’s space program, as we continue our journey to Mars.

NASA’s partnership with ECAST is a key aspect of the agency’s effort to promote broad public participation in their activities and to be responsive to citizen views.

SpaceRef staff editor.