Happy and proud to be a part of the ESA team at the European Space Technology and Research Centre (ESTEC) and support the first all-women spacewalk on Friday 18 October 2019. The picture shows more than fifty women working at ESA’s technical heart ESTEC in the Netherlands, many working in daily Space Station support roles who gathered to show their support and highlight the role of women in space. Full story available from ESA website.
This book is the result of an interdisciplinary project at the Pufendorf Institute, Lund University. Twelve researchers from the same number of disciplines have been included in the project. The purpose has been to highlight the challenges that come with extraterrestrial, artificial and synthetic life. The interdisciplinary approach has given us the opportunity to highlight the questions from every conceivable angle, but also to find completely new combinations of methods and approaches.
Our hope is that the book will inspire new thoughts and discussions about life. The book addresses both those who are already interested and those who have not yet begun to ponder the challenges of extraterrestrial, artificial and synthetic life.
Life is a central concept in many areas of research, for example in biology, astrobiology, chemistry and medicine, as well as in law, theology and philosophy. Life is also a central theme of art. It is treated and pondered in numerous works of art, in poetry, novel and film. How we understand, value and protect life is extremely fundamental. In the future, these issues will become even more difficult and, if possible, even more important. Research groups from all over the world today work to create life in the laboratory, look for life in space and provide machines with properties that have previously only been living creatures, and development is fast. It is important that we at the same time consider the challenges that this entails. It will take time to find ways to live in a world where life exists in forms we can hardly imagine today and where the boundary between living beings and machines becomes increasingly blurred. The decisions we make today will also affect the development of society, research and development for a long time to come.
I am happy to announce that the free preprint version of the “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today” white paper is now available for download from the European Astrobiology Institute website, section documents. The White paper, edited by K.A. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, was recently published through the SpringerBriefs in Astronomy book series, Springer, Cham (2018). The final authenticated version is available online from Springer’s Briefs in Astronomy series: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8
The European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) aspires to become a primary forum for the development of European Astrobiology ensuring that this relatively new interdisciplinary research field is established across Europe. The European Astrobiology Institute will be a consortium of European research and higher education institutions and organisations as well as other stakeholders aiming to carry out research, training, outreach and dissemination activities in astrobiology in a comprehensive and coordinated manner and thereby securing a leading role for the European Research Area in the field.
Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution and future of life on Earth and beyond, is a multidisciplinary field that has expanded rapidly over the last two decades. Now, a consortium of organisations has announced plans to establish a European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) to coordinate astrobiology research in Europe. The new institute is being created in accordance with the recommendations of a White Paper addressing the scientific and social implications of astrobiology research in Europe, presented today at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2018 in Berlin.
The White Paper includes contributions from authors in twenty countries and over thirty scientific institutions worldwide. The contributions draw on the experiences of other astrobiology research communities around the world and recognise the societal implications of the field as well as addressing the scientific goals.
“We are increasingly well-placed to answer major questions concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the origins of life on Earth and the evolution of our planet,” said Wolf Geppert, co-author of the White Paper chapter on leading the future of astrobiology in Europe. “By its nature, astrobiology is multidisciplinary field that requires collaboration. This White Paper shows that Astrobiology has the potential to be a flagship of European cooperation. The formation of the EAI will provide a structure that will bring together many organisations involved in the field to coordinate research and provide a proactive voice for the community.”
Missions and research programmes related to astrobiology have led to some of the most significant and high-profile discoveries in recent years. Thousands of planets have been discovered in other solar systems. The Rosetta mission confirmed a connection between comets an the life-supporting atmosphere on Earth. There is the potential that, in the near future, we will discover living or fossilized microbes on planets or moons within our own Solar System, or we could find signs of biological processes in exoplanetary systems.
“Regardless of whether or not we find evidence for life beyond Earth, astrobiology can provide paradigm-changing scientific advances in our understanding of our origins and our place in the Universe,” said Nigel Mason, who edited and co-authored the White Paper chapter on science and research. “Key areas of research identified in the White Paper include understanding the formation of habitable planets and moons, the pathway to produce the complex organics needed for life from simple molecules, how the conditions for life evolved on the early Earth and the study of life under extreme conditions.”
The White Paper includes sections on environmental protection and sustainability, current regulation, education, training, careers, technical innovation and commerce. In particular, the White Paper emphasises the role of social sciences and humanities in astrobiology and how the field has the capacity to change the view of how humans look at themselves and what it means to be alive.
“Astrobiology has clear existential implications. The social sciences and humanities can play a key role in helping us to prepare for the discovery of life beyond Earth, whether microbial or intelligent, and to understand the likely theological, ethical and worldview impacts on society,” said Klara Anna Čápová, co-editor of the White Paper and author of chapters on the social study of astrobiology as a science and public understanding of astrobiology. “Astrobiology is a subject of intrinsic interest to the general public and to school students but it is also vulnerable to misinterpretation. The formation of the EAI will enable us to make sure that reliable information is distributed to Europe’s citizens and classrooms and that they are actively engaged with the field.”
Astrobiology also presents environmental challenges in ensuring that any extraterrestrial life forms or remains are not compromised by scientific investigations (forward planetary protection), and protecting the Earth from contamination by potentially harmful biological material of extraterrestrial origin (backward planetary protection).
“The preservation of biodiversity and of pristine environments on Earth is of the greatest importance for our ability to study life, its origin, distribution and future. Both forward and backward planetary protection must be understood within a broader context of ensuring the sustainability of scientific and commercial practices,” said Erik Persson, co-editor of the White Paper and author of chapters on the international context of astrobiology and environment and sustainability.
An interim board has been established to map out the tasks, structure, governing bodies, activities, funding and administration of a EAI. The presentation of the White Paper at EPSC 2018 is the first step in a community consultation on its recommendations and plans for the EAI. The formal launch of the EAI is planned for the spring of 2019.
The White Paper “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today”, edited by K. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, is published through the SpringerBriefs in Astronomy book series, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The final authenticated version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8
This White Paper describes the state of astrobiology in Europe today and its relation to the European society at large. With contributions from authors in twenty countries and over thirty scientific institutions worldwide, the document illustrates the societal implications of astrobiology and the positive contribution that astrobiology can make to European society.
The White Paper:
- Presents an overview of the status of astrobiology today
- Places astrobiology in a societal context
- Written by the leading European scientists and scholars in the field
- Strongly oriented towards policy formation
- Helps the reader make informed decisions about science and policy
The White paper has two main objectives: 1. It recommends the establishment of a European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) as an answer to a series of challenges relating to astrobiology but also European research, education and the society at large. 2. It also acknowledges the societal implications of astrobiology, and thus the role of the social sciences and humanities in optimizing the positive contribution that astrobiology can make to the lives of the people of Europe and the challenges they face.
This book is recommended reading for science policymakers, the interested public, and the astrobiology community.
The White Paper “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today”, edited by K.A. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, is published through the SpringerBriefs in Astronomy book series, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The final authenticated version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8
To buy the book from Amazon please go to Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today (SpringerBriefs in Astronomy) Paperback – September 24, 2018
Getting the Message Across. Science in Search for Life Beyond Earth, a poster presented at the Postgraduate Anthropology Conference (May 9, 2014) Durham University, Department of Anthropology, UK. The poster introduces the science in search for life beyond earth as a case study of a dynamic scientific practice and presents reflections on this practice in global popular culture and mass media. The ‘search’ is a temporal practice that is also culturally biased and takes place in societal context. The poster presents a case study of how the visual evidence can be used and utilised in writing about science and global popular culture.
‘Anthropology and science fiction: history of a strong bond’, article that mentioned my doctoral work, discusses the premise that science fiction is not an exercise in the imagination of the future, but it is a story of the Man of the present, of his fears, of his dreams. To read the original text of the article in Italian please go to Antropologia e fantascienza: storia di un forte legame
A book chapter entitled Introducing humans to the extraterrestrials was published by the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Study in the Multidisciplinary Writing Series on December 11, 2017. The book ‘Liv: Utomjordiskt, Syntetiskt, Artificiellt’ (Life: Extraterrestrial, Synthetic, Artificial) is based on the research work of A Plurality of Lives theme. The book was edited project coordinators Jessica Abbott and Erik Persson. Many thanks to Anna Cabak Redei for translating my English text into Swedish: Att presentera människan för utomjordingar.
My chapter gives a brief overview of representations of human life on NASA’s 1972 Pioneer Plaque and the 1977 Voyager Golden Record. These spacecrafts carry messages informing about life on Earth. What information was included? How were humans introduced? What methods were used to communicate the message? And, do those messages really speak on behalf of humans of our planet? After the overview of NASA’s two interstellar messages, the chapter examines the message designs and analyses ‘story of human life’. Using the anthropology of science approach, the chapter shows that is was science as the fundamental concept that shaped the composition of both the Pioneer and Voyager messages.
Excited to be at the EGU conference to present the prefinal version of a joint white paper on societal implications of astrobiology research in Europe at the EGU Galileo conference, during Friday’s session 9: Planetary research: Ethical, philosophical and societal issues. The conference entitled ‘Geoscience for understanding habitability in the solar system and beyond’ is held in Furnas, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal, September 25-29, 2017.
In this paper, presented by the White Paper lead authors on behalf of the WG5 History and Philosophy of Astrobiology, the prefinal version of the joint Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today will be introduced. The talk gives a brief overview of the structure and contents of the latest version of the white paper, that is Version 5.2. During the talk, we will discuss the societal implications of astrobiology research in the European context and the timely role of an organised initiative in astrobiology policy as well as astrobiology communication.
About the EGU Galileo Conference
The conference “Geoscience for understanding habitability in the solar system and beyond” will be held from 25 to 29 September 2017 at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, Furnas, Azores, Portugal. The meeting will start on 25 September in the morning and finish on 29 September at lunchtime. The conference functions as an EGU Galileo meeting and is co-organized by the COST action “Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe”, the Nordic Network of Astrobiology, and the Belgian Planet Topers project. It is co-chaired by Prof. Veronique Dehant (Royal Observatory of Belgium) and by Prof. Wolf Geppert (Stockholm University Astrobiology Centre).
Scope of the meeting
This conference will deal with fundamental issues of planetary habitability, i.e. the environmental conditions capable of sustaining life, and how interactions between the interior of a planet or a moon and its atmosphere and surface (including hydrosphere and biosphere) affect the habitability of the celestial body. It will address some hotly debated questions in the field including the following:
- What effects do core and mantle have on evolution and habitability of planets
- What is the relation between (plate) tectonics and atmospheric evolution?
- What role does the mantle overturn play in the evolution of the interior and atmosphere?
- What is the role of the global carbon and water cycles herein?
- What influence do comet and asteroid impacts exert on the evolution of the planet?
- How does life interact with the evolution of Earth’s geosphere and atmosphere?
- How can we use our knowledge of the solar system geophysics and habitability for exoplanets?
The proposed interdisciplinary will encompass research on all the planets from the upper atmosphere to the deep interior relevant to their habitability. It aims to bring together scientists from all disciplines related to the field in order to discuss the above-mentioned issues.
Many thanks to workshop organisers for inviting me to London to be a respondent to Session 2 – Life in Space, Towards an Anthropology of Space: Orientating Cosmological Futures workshop. The event took place September 18th and was supported by the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies and the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies Octagon Fund.
An epochal ‘move to space’ (Olivier 2015) has been articulated by various commentators as a crucial historical turn for all mankind, from Sputnik, through the Apollo missions to the recent realigning of NASA’s primary mission from Space Exploration to Space Settlement (Augustine Commission 2009). The effect of images of Earth from Space has produced ‘globe talk’ (Lazier 2011:606) where horizons of social worlds are now planetary in scale. These universalising rhetorics nonetheless also hide the hegemony of normative frames of reference used to define humanity’s ‘final frontier’, along with the concept of ‘humanity’ itself.
David Valentine (2012) describes how Space demarks a spatial edge used to distinguish the limits of the globe, which can be both revealed and transcended by techno-science. Space exploration then, is able to act as an ‘empty signifier’ (Ibid) holding the promise of a spatial fix to the future of humanity whilst simultaneously delimiting this same future as it masks the endurance of the forms of relations it claims to transcend. As Debbora Battaglia suggests, the figure of the extra-terrestrial is a symptom of failures to critically understanding the conditions of social life (2005:9), perhaps symptomatic of an inability to conceive of an adequate ‘constitutive outside’ (Butler 1993), which is often a euphemism for a political or social ‘other’.
The binary that extra-terrestrial implies may thus also be contested ethnographically. For example, Suzanne Blier (1987) has observed how dwellings of the Batammaliba track the passage of celestial ancestors through various light apertures whilst Lisa Messeri (2016) notes how Mongolian shamans have been visiting space for many years. Authors such as Alice Gorman (2005), Peter Redfield (2002) and others note how the local world of Space Centres, rocket launch sites or telescopes assume ‘translocal’, often neo-colonial, dreams (Redfield 2002:808) effacing local concerns. And whilst Soviets and Americans positioned Space as a location to enact utopian futures, different kinds of utopian ideological expansions may also occur through modern space narratives in places such as Ghana, China and Brazil.
What can we make of the new space race ethnographically? How would the consideration of relations between earth and off-earth life enable a fruitful theoretical development of social science enquiry? And, ultimately, in what ways can Anthropology think through the political, the material and the transcendent dimensions of an epochal turn to Space? In this workshop we will investigate the heuristic devices used in the creation of new forms of connectedness and separation that a relation with the extra-terrestrial could enable.