The Center for Space Exploration Policy Research (CSEPR) is a cooperative effort of the Department of Space Studies at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas. CSEPR seeks to stimulate discussion on the ethical, cultural, and philosophic aspects of space policy. Initial projects involve (1) the nature of public support for space exploration, and (2) the coupled scientific and ethical issues of biological contamination of other planets or Earth from future lander and sample return missions. More generally, CSEPR's aim is explore how space science and technology have and will alter our relationship with nature and between ourselves.
While relying upon the latest advances in science, engineering, and technology, space exploration is at its roots driven by political and philosophic concerns. Scientific curiosity is itself a philosophic commitment: as Aristotle noted long ago, humans desire to know even (or especially) when there is likely to be no practical outcome. Certainly there should and will be practical outcomes to human space exploration. But there has been a paucity of sustained reflection on the humanistic roots of this enterprise.
Through its publications and meetings CSEPR seeks to highlight issues such as
- Planetary protection: How can we ensure that our spacecraft do not contaminate other worlds, or bring pathogens back to Earth? How is this risk perceived by society and how is it dealt with by policymakers?
- The space market : What is the future of NASA funding? In particular, how robust are space exploration initiatives, and what drives them? What roles do national pride, public curiosity and wonder, and economic and political forces, play in the continuity of the public space exploration enterprise?
- The political philosophy of space: What should be the property rights of individuals and nations in space? What is the proper public role of space exploration, and what aspects are best left to the private sector? What types of governance of space are possible? How might space exploration help or hinder political processes on Earth?
- Public Perceptions of Space: Public perceptions of space, space exploration, and human spaceflight are shaped by the media, film, and science fiction. Artists and writers can show us imagined futures, within which values, ethics and outcomes are investigated. What are the links between public support for space exploration, education, and the political processes that enable space missions and science?
- Ethics and Values in Space Exploration: The implications of a particular technology, or of a course of action such as exploring the frontier of space, are written not just in the science, but in the changes they make to the lives of human beings. How can philosophers, writers, and policymakers work with scientists to understand the implications of a space-faring civilization?