Letters of Intent received in 2019

LoI 2021-2099
Non-GA Symposium: Astrobiology and Society

Date: 15 March 2021 to 19 March 2021
Location: Nicosia, Cyprus
Contact: Marcello Coradini (council.chair@space.org.cy)
Coordinating division: Division F Planetary Systems and Astrobiology
Other divisions: Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
Co-Chairs of SOC: Marcello Coradini (Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO))
John Rummel (SETI)
Co-Chairs of LOC: George A Danos (Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO))
Colm Larkin (Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO))

 

Topics

- Planetary environments' protection
- Education and awareness on respecting planetary environments potentially relevant for astrobiology
- Forward and backward biological contamination
- Societal and philosophical impact of potential extraterrestrial life discovery

 

Rationale

Dear Colleagues,

This letter of intent briefly describes the project of a (non-GA) IAU Symposium in Nicosia, Cyprus during Early March 2021.

The title of the Symposium would be: Astrobiology and Society.

This IAU symposium proposes a meeting of a unique mix of astrobiologists and planetary scientists and engineers who will set the “scene” and will pave the way to stimulating discussions with sociologist, anthropologists and philosophers on:
- the impact of the discovery of even a simple form of extra-terrestrial life;
- the direct environmental challenges that need to be considered during space exploration, namely in the form of forward and back contamination;
- the preservation of terrestrial areas with conditions that can serve as analogues to extra-terrestrial environments, areas with conditions like those under which life originated on Earth;
- education and awareness on respecting planetary environments potentially relevant for astrobiology;

The above issues need to be approached from a technical perspective, but also from an educational and societal perspective. And these must be understood within a broader context of ensuring the sustainability of practices, both scientific and commercial.

There are strong links between astrobiology and environmental concern. As well as impinging upon issues of law and governance, astrobiology is also bound up with questions concerning who we are and where we come from, worldview questions of a more existential and philosophical sort. The questions that it seeks to tackle have, for centuries, been central to the humanities and to social science disciplines.

As far as education and society is concerned, Astrobiology deals with research questions, which are at the core of our human existence that capture the attention by scholars and students of all age groups. As it is an interdisciplinary research field, it can be included in curricula of different STEM disciplines, as well as humanities and social sciences at almost all levels of education and outreach.

But furthermore, we aim to discuss and understand the relationships between astrobiology and the social sciences, particularly anthropology and sociology in order to take a closer look at the possible impact of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life on theology and philosophy.

Astrobiology has clear existential implications, but beyond these, it also has concrete cultural, ethical, societal, educational, political, economic, and legal consequences. How will the general public react if we discover life on another planet? What pedagogic role can astrobiology play in elementary and higher education? How should this be politically managed and how should it be legally regulated?

The USA is currently the main leading nation within astrobiology with the largest number of researchers as well as the highest level of research output. European research teams are, however, already playing an important role and have provided several major breakthroughs in the field. We expect this discipline to spread rapidly all over the world given the large breath of disciplines it encompasses and the potential implication for our society.

Because of its location at the meeting points of 3 continents, Europe, Africa and Asia and the observable impacts of climate issues, Cyprus is an ideal location to hold this symposium. Also, as a new country member of the IAU, engaging in space and research, it is a fertile location to address the above issues with an excited and engaged public and political class.

The Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO) has hosted in Cyprus many space and astronomy related international conferences so far. Indicatively, last October CSEO organised in Cyprus the “Mars Upper Atmosphere Network - International Space Summit” which was attended by space leaders from around the world, such as the NASA Chief Scientist, the Director of the Russian Space Institute and many others. And, this month (Sept 2019) the International Reference Ionosphere workshop of COSPAR was held in Cyprus. These conferences received a great positive reaction from the participants, welcoming them as successful, inclusive and productive gatherings.

Chairing the SOC of this proposed symposium, will be two prominent scientists that have contributed greatly in the field of Astrobiology and the search for life.

Prof Marcello Coradini as Head of Solar System and Robotic Exploration of the European Space Agency - ESA (1987-2010) and ESA Programs Coordinator at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - JPL (2010-2015), has led multiple missions to Mars and Jovian/Saturnian satellites seeking to find extra-terrestrial life. Recently he has been heading a team that discovered strong evidence of liquid underwater lakes under the surface of Mars.

Prof John Rummel as NASA’s Senior Scientist for Astrobiology and as NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer - PPO (1986-1993 and 1998-2008), has been responsible for both the Life Support and Exobiology Implementation Teams under the US-USSR Joint Working Group in Space Biology and Medicine, and has received multiple awards for leadership in fostering NASA-sponsored life science research, from the IAA for significant and lasting contributions to the advancement of the astronautical sciences, and from NASA for outstanding management of space science programs.

With the above we aim to hold an engaging, productive, stimulating and internationally bridging symposium that will furthermore strengthen the involvement of the region in astronomical research and more specifically via such an engaging topic to stimulate the younger generation in choosing astronomy as a field of study.

Thanking you for your consideration and looking forward to working with the IAU on this proposed symposium.