Space Cultures is a research project on the socio-cultural and historical aspects of space exploration and search for life beyond earth worldwide.

My recent work includes the study of transformations of human relations to outer space, popular perceptions of science, and societal context of space exploration.

My research interests include the social study of astrobiology and anthropology of outer space. More specifically, my work examines the scientific search for life beyond Earth as a specific culture of science, impact of science on society and environment, public understanding of space sciences, and the role of digital media in science dissemination world-wide.

Maritime exploration, polar expeditions and space colonisation

Historical and cultural analogies of the Great Age of Discovery – In the historical records of the great age of exploration, we find several accounts of human failures, equipment dysfunctions and other disasters. In learning from history, there are at least  two broad fields where the analysis of historical accounts combined with socio-cultural insights seem to be relevant also in the new era of exploration:

  • Space Exploration vs. Commercial Exploitation: quests for commercial expansion, planetary protection, use of natural resources in space, ethics and conduct of governmental & private activities.
  • Space Travel & Settlements: survival in extreme conditions and hostile environment, group psychology and resource management.

The idea to use historical and cultural stories about naval and polar exploration stems from Klara’s personal interest in Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and maritime exploration.

Space Cultures

Space Cultures is a research project on the socio-cultural and historical aspects of space exploration and search for life beyond earth worldwide. The project is based on Klara’s master’s and doctoral research into search for life beyond earth and postdoctoral work in anthropology of science.

Space Cultures is an ongoing multi-disciplinary research project looking into space and society. The basis of this visual project has been established in Klara’s doctoral fieldwork when she collected visual evidence including examples from science fiction, science documentaries and other ethnographic material collected during fieldwork to demonstrate how popular culture has adapted the other life idea. As the research unfolded this has evolved into image galleries and collections of curiosities such as science tattoos, science fiction stories, jokes about extraterrestrials, and incredible media stories. The research Facebook page All Things Extra-Terrestrial is dedicated to the extraterrestrial life and aliens as they appear/are presented in space sciences, popular culture, science fiction and art.

Theses
Capova, K.A. (2013). The Charming Science of the Other: The cultural analysis of the scientific search for life beyond earth. Department of Anthropology, Durham University. Department of Anthropology. Durham University. PhD. http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/8516/

Capova, K.A. (2008). The Voyager Message. Department of General Anthropology, Charles University in Prague. Masters.

History, Development & Societal Aspects of Active of SETI

Klara is a member of the international SETI History Subcommittee and the SETI UK Research Network (UKSRN).Her research interest related to SETI can be divided into four themes: 1) interstellar message construction principles, 2) societal impact of extraterrestrial life detection, 3) imagined contact scenarios, 4) SETI in other parts of the world. Klara offers a sociocultural perspective on the scientific search for life beyond earth and addresses its impact and status in contemporary Western society and beyond. This includes the investigation of how is the alien life imagined, theorized, and narrated in popular culture and mass media.

What can messages sent to outer space tell us about humans who sent them? Is there life beyond our planet and how to find it?

The project is an extension of the findings presented in Klara’s doctoral research. The work conceptualises the extraterrestrial life hypothesis as a significant part of the general world-view, constantly shaped by the work and discoveries of science. It draws from the ethnographic fieldwork conducted over two years in the UK that combined interviews with scientists (astrobiologists, physicists, and astronomers) with data collected from the global ‘online’ community. On the base of this data, the paper offers an insight into the current concepts of other life as understood, perceived, and interpreted by the scientific community and popular culture.

A human curiosity and interest in fascinating yet unanswered question about an extraterrestrial life have its reflections not only in worlds of fantasy but also in theoretical, scientific approaches. The first step toward rational base and was the radio message transmitted from Arecibo that was followed by small plaques installed on Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecrafts, and finally Voyager messages. In the same way, also the Voyager Mission encompasses the time old question of extraterrestrial recipient, different life forms, and simply for other life in the universe. Other methods include listening to signals (SETI) and search for building blocks if life or for early life on other planets, e.g. Mars.

Drawing from anthropology of science the project offers elaboration of ‘culture of science’ and ‘scientific culture’ and describes the scientific search for other life as a specific culture of science, here referred to as ‘charming science’. The three scientific search methods: message sending, analysing of cosmic signals and the search for extrasolar planets are conceptualised as the three search modes: messaging, listening and exploring respectively.

This project introduces the extraterrestrial ‘Other’ as a profoundly cultural concept, firstly presented as the missing subject of science. Exploration of public understanding the extraterrestrial life and popular imagination of the ‘Other’ is intended to introduce the scientific search in broader social context and address the role of science in contemporary Western world. In details, the project investigates: (1) interstellar message construction principles; (2) societal impact of extraterrestrial life detection; (3) detection policy and contact scenarios; (4) SETI in other parts of the world.

Klara is a member of the international SETI History Subcommittee and the SETI UK Research Network (UKSRN). Her research interest related to SETI can be divided into four themes: 1) interstellar message construction principles, 2) societal impact of extraterrestrial life detection, 3) imagined contact scenarios, 4) SETI in other parts of the world. Klara offers a sociocultural perspective on the scientific search for life beyond earth and addresses its impact and status in contemporary Western society and beyond. This includes the investigation of how is the alien life imagined, theorized, and narrated in popular culture and mass media. To find out more about this project, please get in touch.

Published

Capova, K.A., (2013). The Detection of Extraterrestrial Life: Are We Ready? In: Vakoch D. (ed.). Astrobiology, History, and Society. Springer. ISBN 978-3-642-35982-8

Human Extremophiles & ‘Life’ on Mars

The arrival of the 3rd millennium in the history of Western societies marked an upcoming of a new era of scientific and technological achievements in space technologies as well as new visions of the space exploration. Especially the bold plans of creating first human settlement of Mars are frequently presented as the next proverbial giant leap for humankind. But alongside with technology and equipment required for survival of the 1st generation of Martian colonists, more will be transported across the distance of about 99 million miles to Martian surface: their culture. The project explores the plans for future settlements on Mars from a sociocultural perspective and presents available evidence that illustrates the visions of future life for Martian colonists and their descendants.

In the new era of space exploration, the new semi-commercial space enterprises are being formed and we witness the emergence of a new, fast-growing multimillion-pound industry derived from space programme. In the past, the outerspace exploration had posed a great challenge to policy makers and also the space commerce raises a variety of new ethical issues none of which seem to be addressed properly; such as code of conduct, planetary protection, and the protection of human life during commercial space flight. Klara works with concepts of space commerce or commercialised science to describe emerging space ventures. In her analysis of plans to establish human settlement on Mars or Moon, she elaborates the concepts of ‘earthboundness’ as well as planetary protection and neo-enviromentalism.

Published

Capova, K. A. (2019). Human Extremophiles: Mars as a Camera Obscura of the Extraterrestrial Scientific Culture. In The Human Factor in a Mission to Mars. pp. 115-132. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-02059-0

To find out more about this project, please get in touch.

Space Commerce and Space Ventures

In the new era of space exploration, the new semi-commercial space enterprises are being formed and we witness the emergence of a new, fast-growing multimillion-pound industry derived from space programme. In the past, the outerspace exploration had posed a great challenge to policy makers and also the space commerce raises a variety of new ethical issues none of which seem to be addressed properly; such as code of conduct, planetary protection, and the protection of human life during commercial space flight. Klara works with concepts of space commerce or commercialised science to describe emerging space ventures. In her analysis of plans to establish human settlement on Mars or Moon, she elaborates the concepts of ‘earthboundness’ as well as planetary protection and neo-enviromentalism.

Publication: Capova, K.A. (2016) ‘The New Space Age in the making: Emergence of exo-mining, exo-burials and exo-marketing’, International Journal of Astrobiology, 15(4), pp. 307–310. doi: 10.1017/S1473550416000185.

Origin Stories

Where do we come from? How did life originate? Identifying the contemporary Origin Stories and describing the emergence of a Space Age Spirituality.

In 2009, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences organised a Study Week on Astrobiology during which renowned scientists were asked to report on developments in this new science that explores origins of life, life’s relationship to the rest of the cosmos and existence of life-forms elsewhere. Astrobiology has inherited the biggest questions in the intellectual, spiritual and philosophical history of mankind. Questions that have many fundamental implications: Where do we come from? How did life originate? And astrobiologists produce and inspire new stories about human life, its past, present, and future and also change ways people relate to the cosmos.

This project sets to explore the ‘Origin Stories’ produced by astrobiology to investigate its impact on European thoughts. Using the interplay between ‘culture of science’ (astrobiology) and ‘scientific culture’ (contemporary European popular culture), the project aims to (a) provide an account of scientific narratives of origin of life; (b) investigate how astrobiologists have approached the great mystery of life and communicate it; and (c) how the ‘Origin stories’ circulate through socioeconomic and cultural settings. Taking in consideration the role of artists impressions, space art, and science fiction in astrobiology dissemination, the project explores public availability of science concepts as a way of influencing, if not shifting, the contemporary European worldview. The concepts of science made ‘visible’ seem to be an increasingly important facilitators of science diffusion and vehicles of societal change related to developments in science.

Astrobiology is a multidisciplinary and innovative science that studies origins and evolution of life. Astrobiology receives great attention from public and mass media alike because it tackles the fundamental questions of human existence: who are we? where do we come from? are we alone? This interdisciplinary project, rooted in sociocultural and visual anthropology, aims to analyse the key astrobiology concepts of life and its origins, the ‘Origin Stories.’ By approaching astrobiology from the sociocultural perspective, the project tackles the theme of perception and conceptions of origins of life by employing the role of visual information as a dominant science rhetoric heavily used in science communication as well as in diffusing the latest astrobiology concepts to public.

To find out more about this project, please get in touch.

Planetary Vulnerability

Assessing the impact of the commercial use of space on planet Earth and examining the terrestrial global socioeconomic dimension of the new space race.

Free market economy with millions of pounds worth of investments has entered the outer space and the Space Race of the 3rd millennium is the one of science and private sector. In my doctoral dissertation (2013) on anthropology of outer space I suggested that commercial availability of space technologies conditioned the emergence of space industry and enhanced the global social change. Later I focused on the outer space economy and its relation to astrobiology research (Capova 2016) and their possible intersections.

One infamous analogy to potential impact of commerce in outer space would be the commercial conquest of the ultimate terrestrial frontier. Mount Everest, described by George Mallory as a symbol of “man’s desire to conquer the Universe,” is an alarming example of how far can the controversial and commercial high altitude tourism go: leaving trail of garbage, waste and even human bodies behind.

The proposed theme of planetary vulnerability suggests to take the themes of risks involved with space exploration one step further and address themes emerging from the intersection of commerce, science, technology and a new commercial territory: outer space. The notion of planetary vulnerability enables to tackle themes of the new space race risks, interdependence of the local and the global, ethics and planetary environment, global ecology and economy, and science policy and research sustainability.

The objectives of the research are to a) provide a systematic study of space industry worldwide; b) explore potential conflicts of interest between conduct of science and commercial use of space; c) and to address the effect of those activities in terrestrial context, here defined as ‘planetary vulnerability.´

To find out more about this project, please get in touch.


completed projects

Socio-economic benefits of European space exploration and its contributions to sustainable development world-wide

Currently Internal Research Fellow, based in the Strategy and Innovation Team, Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration Programmes, at European Space Agency/European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESA/ESTEC.

The Team supports the development, evolution and implementation of ESA’s Global Exploration Strategy and manages the benefits from ESA’s space exploration activities. This includes supporting international activities, including the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), and the development of new partnerships and governance schemes. The Team also works to implement new innovation partnerships with commercial space and non-space sectors for activities related to exploration of the Moon, Mars and low Earth orbit, while seeking to increase commercial and industrial utilisation of the International Space Station. The Team leads a number of activities to prepare future exploration missions and technologies, working closely with the space science community. These include technology developments and mission studies, coordinated at international level and leveraging commercial partnerships.

Working on the development of a systematic approach for defining, delivering and monitoring expected benefits from the European space exploration on society at large. These benefits address the scientific, economic, political and public dimension of space exploration. More on WE EXPLORE – YOU BENEFIT


Entrepreneurship and International Development

Enhancing Societal Change & Economic Empowerment

One decade of cooperation with a UK based consultancy International Consultants for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (ICE) as a consultant and researcher. The work included researcher in policy development in areas of enterprise and entrepreneurship, policy and practice development, and engagement with the small business community especially in developing countries. This covered topics such as gender issues, post-conflict development, economic empowerment, women’s enterprise, social enterprise development, role of Internet and new technologies in societal change, best practices, and mapping of current socio-economic conditions in China, Somaliland, Macedonia, Kenya, Malaysia and Croatia. In the past Klara assisted Professor Allan Gibb OBE in the development of the Oxford/NCGE Entrepreneurial University Leadership Programme Support Guide.


Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today

Describing the state of Astrobiology in Europe today and its relation to the European society at large.

The aim of the “Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today. The White Paper on the societal implications of astrobiology research in Europe and the need for a European Astrobiology Institute” document is to lay the ground for a coordinated multidisciplinary European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) and to establish the contribution of the social sciences and humanities to astrobiology research in Europe.

Edited by K. A. Capova, E. Persson, T. Milligan, D. Dunér, 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 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.

The White Paper on the societal implications of astrobiology research in Europe, which is a joint interdisciplinary effort of Working Group 5 within the COST Action TD1308 “Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe”, aims to gather together these challenges and implications, and in so doing lay the ground for a European Astrobiology Institute.

To find out more about this project, please get in touch.

Published

Capova, K. A., Persson, E., Milligan, T., Dunér, D. (eds) (2018). Astrobiology and Society in Europe Today. Springer Briefs in Astronomy, Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96265-8


A Plurality of Lives

How Will the Emerging Plurality of Lives Change How We Conceive of and Relate to Life?

Klara was a Visiting Research Fellow for ‘A Plurality of Lives’ project funded by the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies at Lund University, Sweden. This interdisciplinary project was looking into how will the emerging plurality of lives effect a wide range of issues that all depend on how we look at life, from how to frame research questions in chemistry, biology and astrobiology via legal and political questions, to philosophical and theological perspectives. For more information please see A Plurality of Lives project description.

Published

Capova, K.A. (2017). Att presentera manniskan for utomjordingar (Introducing humans to the extraterrestrials, Swedish translation by Anna Cabak Redei). In: Abbott J., Persson E., (eds.). Liv: Utomjordiskt, Syntetiskt, Artificiellt. Pufendorf Institute for Advance Study Multidisciplinary Writing Series, Lund University.


Science, Technology & Society

Energy cultures, energy practices and adoption of new technologies

One of Klara’s research interests is the social study of science and the impact of science and technology, this includes social study of the adoption and perception of new technologies as well as energy cultures and practices. Klara worked with geographers and engineers as a member of the Social Science Team on the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR) project, was conducting fieldwork and semi-qualitative analysis looking into current energy practices and assessing the potential of novel technologies. In 2014, Northern Powergrid and partners completed a major four year smart grid demonstration project, the Customer-Led Network Revolution. The project generated important new learning, from trials with real customers on real networks, and was at the forefront of research into how UK electricity networks can rise to the challenges presented by a low carbon future.

Published

Bell, S., Judson, E., Bulkeley, H., Powells, G., Capova, K.A., Lynch, D., (2015). Sociality and electricity in the United Kingdom: The influence of household dynamics on everyday consumption. Energy Research and Social Science, 9:98–106. DOI10.1016/j.erss.2015.08.027

Powells, G., Bell, S., Judson, E.P., Lyon, S.M., Wardle, R., Capova, K.A., Bulkeley, H., (2015). Fostering active network management through SMEs’ practises. Energy Efficiency, 1-14. DOI10.1007/s12053-015-9382-y

Sociotechnical Reports

Capova, K.A., Wardle, R., Bell, S., Lyon, S., Bulkeley, H.A., Matthews, P.C., Powells, G. (2015) High level summary of learning: electrical vehicle users. Technical Report. Northern Powergrid (Northeast) Limited, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Bell, S., Capova, K.A., Barteczko-Hibbert, C., Matthews, P.C., Wardle, R., Bulkeley, H.A., Lyon, S., Judson, E., Powells, G. (2015) High level summary of learning: heat pump customers. Technical Report. Northern Powergrid (Northeast) Limited, Newcastle upon Tyne.

CLNR Report Domestic Customers: Energy Practices and Flexibility (2015). K.A. Capova, G. Powells, H. Bulkeley & S. Lyon, Durham University.

CLNR Insight Report: Electric Vehicles (2014). R. Wardle, K.A. Capova, P. Matthews, S. Bell, G. Powells, H. Bulkeley, Durham University.


Educational Time Trek (e-TimeTrek)

A Digital Travel through Deep Time, the Universe and the Earth

About: An interactive, interdisciplinary, phenomena-based science education system using digital, visual and gamified materials, aimed for distribution throughout the European schooling system. Goals: Develop an “eTimeTrek” proposal, describe a new approach to promote general science education in schools, and in society, by merging the natural sciences with the latest developments in information technology, using a bit of a philosophical and artistic touch to make them highly attractive to all audiences. All the materials to be based on the “Long story of the history of the Universe, the Earth, and Life, jointly composing an interdisciplinary, integrated, phenomenon-based and continuous description of the history of our world, or an educational Timeline. Status: The Game Laboratory of the Turku University of Applied Sciences, Finland, is producing digital educational demo materials for schools; these will be soon available through TimeTrek web page.


AstroSocio Resource Centre

All you ever wanted to know about societal aspects of astrobiology in one place.

The mission of the digital European Astrobiology and Society Resource Centre (EASRC) is to provide an inclusive online access to astrobiology information and in doing so to enhance the public understanding of astrobiology as a multi-disciplinary science.

This project builds on work of the Working Group 5: History and Philosophy of Astrobiology, COST Action TD1308 Origins and evolution of life on Earth and in the Universe. Our aim is to keep the momentum of the TD1308 and include works of the European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA) and Nordic Network of Astrobiology to make the knowledge generated through the projects available to wider professional audiences as well as to astrobiologists themselves.

The ambition of this project is to set up a framework for European online astrobiology information centre dedicated to raising awareness of astrobiology research and its societal aspects, and to provide access to quality scientific information to any interested subject now and in the future.

The centre was founded on March 02, 2018 by Dr. Klara Anna Capova and Prof. Elias Chatzitheodoridis with one ambition: to set up an European online astrobiology resource framework dedicated to raising awareness of astrobiology research and related space sciences and their societal aspects, and to provide access to quality scientific information to any interested subject now and in the future.

For more please go to the European Astrobiology and Society Resource Centre (EASRC) website. To find out more about this project, please get in touch.

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