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The world is entering a New Space Age. Much like the original Space Age of the 1950s to 1970s, we are poised on the brink of momentous changes – not all of them good. Instead of being a forward-looking symbol of hope, the New Space Age is characterized by ambiguities, conflict, and contingencies. It is in this spirit that I am co-organizing a workshop series at the Schader Foundation (Darmstadt) together with Stefan Selke from the Public Science Lab (Hochschule Furtwangen).
The goal of the series is to discuss social science perspectives on space and spaceflight. When compared to technical fields and natural sciences, the social sciences have often taken a back seat in public and professional debates about space. We want to show what the social sciences can contribute to the understanding of current challenges in this subject area.
And the challenges of the New Space Age are many: the creeping collapse of the „ISS model“ of global cooperation, national prestige thinking, anti-satellite weapons tests and the danger of new arms races, and the entanglement with terrestrial conflict constellations are topics for the first workshop in 23 January. We have assembled a stellar (pun intended) line-up of speakers and guest from a broad range of disciplines and fields of practice.
The second workshop, on March 27, will focus on the orbit as an environment. Then, the focus will be on the massive increase in satellites and other objects and the resulting overuse of a scarce resource. Mining and tourism are considered promising space industries, but at the same time the risk of uncontrollable cascades of collisions with space debris is increasing. On the one hand, we welcome the increasing economic relevance of space; on the other hand, we worry about appropriate and fair governance that also meets sustainability goals.
And in the last workshop on October 16, we want to explore the utopias of space travel and their cultural reverberations on Earth. Above all, we also want to ask normative questions about justice. To be sure, spaceflight has become more democratic in some ways and is no longer dominated by just two nations. But the promise that space is a „province of all mankind“, as stated in the Outer Space Treaty, is at best an aspiration.
These are exciting and timely questions on which social scientists have a lot to say. If you’d like to know more about what the social sciences have to say about current issues of space governance and beyond, check out the SichTRaum network of researchers or simply get in touch!