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Part One of the Inaugural Essay (see below) was presented in August as an exclusive part of an Informal Discussion Roundtable at the 2004 American Sociological Association (ASA) Conference.

(posted 05/13/2004; modified 10/12/2004)

Part Two of the Inaugural Essay (see below) was presented on October 16, 2004 as part of a special dedicated session, entitled Astrosociology: The Establishment of a New Subfield, as part of the California Sociological Association (CSA) conference in Riverside, CA .

(posted 11/10/2004)


This page contains the Inaugural Essay which provides a theoretical foundation for astrosociology.  Those interested in contributing to the growth of astrosociology as a single body of knowledge and literature can send materials to  Based on perceived merit, and contribution to the diversity of astrosociological materials received, papers will be posted on the Virtual Library page.  They will be available for all to read.  And, hopefully, they will provoke reaction and development of this new subdiscipline!

Upon reading the Inaugural Essay, readers are encouraged to provide feedback to at the email addresses cited below.  Reactions and other constructive materials will be posted on the Inaugural Essay Feedback page (see the button below).  In addition to direct feedback, those interested in assisting with the promotion of astrosociology are encouraged to submit references that are believed to be astrosociological in nature.  This will help with the assembly of the List of Astrosociological References found on the Virtual Library page.  Your participation at this early stage is vital for astrosociology to flourish as a sociological subfield.  Please contribute to this effort in any manner of your choice.


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Inaugural Essay

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Inaugural Essay:


The Definition and Relevance of Astrosociology

in the Twenty-First Century


(Part One:  Definition, Theory and Scope)



Jim Pass, Ph.D.

(© copyright 2004 by Jim Pass)


[Part One posted 01/04/2004]



       The purpose of this essay is to articulate a preliminary understanding of 

astrosociology in terms of its definition, scope, and its relevance as a new subfield of

sociology.  As an introduction to astrosociology, this essay represents a foundation on

which interested scientists can build a new focused body of astrosociological knowledge

and literature.  It is crucial to generate interest in this subfield of sociology precisely

because it does not yet exist on any mainstream or coherent level.  Beyond that, there is

currently no concentrated effort to consolidate the subject matter at this time; although

the elements of astrosociology exist as parts of many sciences in an unorganized and

dispersed form.  The astrobiological literature, for example, makes frequent references to

sociological concepts.  A search on the World Wide Web for “astrosociology” results in

very few legitimate resources.  As such, there is currently no astrosociological scientific

community.  Astrosociology is unknown to most sociologists and other scientists.

       The goal of is to alter this state of affairs into one in which 

sociologists and others deliberately contribute to a single body of knowledge called 

astrosociology.  This website was created to serve as (1) a forum for the collaborative 

construction of a new body of sociological knowledge and (2) a depository for the 

astrosociological literature focusing on issues such as those presented here.  This

website exists because astrosociology is not yet a widely recognized subfield of

sociology, and therefore it can benefit from a centralized approach.  It is intended to

serve as a catalyst for the growth of astrosociology from a general state of

nonexistence.  As such, the consolidation of this knowledge and future collaboration

focusing on a single, widely-recognized sociological subfield is overdue.

        The intention here is to promote astrosociology so that it becomes recognized by

(1) astrosociologists who contribute to it and (2) sociology departments that offer

courses at some point in the future.  An early objective involves the recruitment of

sociologists (and others) to “become” astrosociologists.  Currently, this means that

social scientists in other areas will have to change their area of concentration and

recognize astrosociology as their preferred subfield of sociology.  Of course, students

may declare their area of concentration as astrosociology from the outset (when this

becomes an option).  For the most part, however, training in astrosociology must

initially exist “in the field” and as part of a virtual community since no departments

offer it in their existing programs.  Astrosociology should be acknowledged in sociology

introduction courses and later on as entire courses and areas of concentration (i.e.,

majors).  It is expected to be a slow process, but its importance is undeniable as this

essay attempts to demonstrate.

       Consider the following argument which illustrates the necessity of understanding

astrosociological issues.  Astrosociology is not only a relevant focus of the sociological

study of past and contemporary social systems, but an absolutely vital one for

understanding social conditions and social forces that will characterize societies in the

future.  One area serves as a good example of this. Societies become more dependent on

science and technology as they become more complex.  And indeed, very little is known

with very much precision about the interactive effects between science and technology, on

the one hand, and society on the other hand.  Even less is known about the impact of

astrosocial phenomena on a particular society.  Another complication involves the

increasing cooperative interactions among nations as all human societies mature.  These

types of issues make astrosociology both interesting and invaluable.  Before exploring

such issues further, however, a precise definition of astrosociology is the first step for

moving toward a greater understanding of this unexplored area of sociology.


Defining the Conceptualization and Scope of Astrosociology

       The term astrosociology is adopted here over such phrases as “sociology of 

astronomy,” “socio-astronomy,” or “social astronomy” for at least three reasons.  First,

and most importantly, the term astrosociology is much more broadly inclusive than a

focus only on astronomy.  It focuses on astrosocial phenomena, as will be explained

shortly.  Astronomy comprises only one subset of the astrosocial phenomena falling

under the wide-ranging scope of astrosociology.  It is not limited to the study of

astronomical phenomena.  That is, astrosociology is not narrowly focused on how

astronomy is carried out by astronomers and their societies, or on the details of their

findings.  This is included under the purview of astrosociology, but it is just one

component of the overall scope.  Any particular astrosociologist could concentrate on a

specific set of astronomical phenomena, as a subset of astrosocial phenomena, just

as a narrow focus is advisable in any other major subfield of sociology such as

criminology or medical sociology.  Thus, astrosociology is not specifically concerned

with astronomical discoveries or technological innovations themselves, but it is

concerned about how such discoveries and innovations affect various elements of a

particular society.

       Second, the currently growing field of astrobiology is of a similar scientific 

approach.  It therefore makes logical sense to use similar terms. If each word is 

dissected, “astro” for both refers to “star;” and the second part, “biology” or “sociology,”

indicates the scientific discipline.  Astrobiology has been adopted by NASA and other

scientific communities around the world.  It is anticipated that a similar positive future

awaits astrosociology.  The two fields have much to offer and, in several ways, are

complementary to one another.  For example, astrosociology would study how

astrobiology is conducted, its impact on society, and the ways in which it is important

to various social groups and institutions.  Astrobiologists have already indicated

interest in such matters.  The astrobiological literature already touches on the impact

of discovering extraterrestrial life.  (Ideas related to astrobiology and SETI will be

considered in more detail at later points in this essay).  Finally, the use of terminology

similar to astrobiology also helps to give the uninitiated a general idea of the subject

matter which can only be helpful to a new sociological subfield.  This term has the

potential to attract both sociologists and astronomy-related scientists based solely on

its construction.

       Third, the term astrosociology is more simple and concise.  This attribute may

seem trivial, but a good “catch phrase” can help a new field to grow more easily in

popularity in the scientific and lay communities.  A single agreed-upon term is needed

so that interested parties can contribute to the same dynamically-evolving body of

knowledge.  Although this term provides a good indication of its general focus, which

is a good start, no single term can characterize the complexity and scope of this new

sociological subfield, as will soon become evident to the reader.

       There is no claim that term “astrosociology” is coined here.  For example, a passing

reference is made in Allen Tough’s (1995) discussion about the positive consequences

of SETI even before the detection of extraterrestrial life.  Tough also mentions “social

astronomy” as a possibility, but this term suffers from the implied focus on only

astronomical matters rather than the more inclusive astrosociological ones.  There are

other references to astrosociology as well.  For an example, see Helmut Abt’s (2000)

discussion concerning “bibiometric” studies focusing on the study of astronomical

publications and accomplishments.  (Another term in this area is “socio-astronomy.”  

For a good example, see André Heck’s Updated Bibliography of Socio-Astronomy web

page). Astrosociology, it is argued here, is the best term for the proposed subfield of

sociology.  Additionally, this essay calls for a decided shift away from a definition such

as these types of approaches and to one more in line with the approach of

mainstream sociology.

       So, astrosociology is not a new term unknown to the world.  That is not the

contention here.  Rather, it is contended that astrosociology is undefined in the

context described here and the effort initiated by is necessary to

promote it to its proper state of understanding and acceptance.  It is time to study the

connections between space-related activities (science, technology, and human

activities) and human societies.  Efforts focusing on the sociology of science and

technology exist, of course, but they are not dedicated exclusively to astrosociological

issues.  This reality is unacceptable since human efforts are increasingly focusing on

the mysteries and challenges of space.  Activities related to outer space are becoming

more relevant to the lives of ordinary citizens.

       A central theme in this essay is that societies tend to incorporate more and more

characteristics of a spacefaring nation as they become more complex.  However, the

ways in which astrosocial forces are shaping societies (overall, as well as their

institutions, social groups, and cultures) are currently not the focus of a dedicated

effort of scientific understanding.  The definition of astrosociology, and the pursuit of

it as a social science, changes that reality.  The definition of astrosociology that

follows is the first step to launching astrosociology as a viable subfield of sociology.


       A Working Definition.  Astrosociology is defined as the sociological study of the

two-way relationship between astrosocial phenomena and other aspects of society

(i.e., non-astrosocial phenomena or other social phenomena) at the various levels of

social reality and organization (i.e., the micro, middle, and macro levels of analysis).  

The concept of astrosocial phenomena (have I coined a new concept?!) pertains to all

social conditions, social forces, organized activities, objectives and goals, and social

behaviors directly or indirectly related to (1) spaceflight and exploration or (2) any of

the space sciences (e.g., astronomy, cosmology, astrobiology, astrophysics).  It

includes all outcomes of these phenomena in the form of scientific discoveries and

technological applications, new paradigms of thought in the astrosocial and non-

astrosocial sectors of society, as well as any resulting changes of social norms and

values in any of the social structures of a particular society.

       Another component of the concept of astrosocial phenomena is that it includes all 

the norms, values, roles, and statuses that characterize social structures in the

astrosocial sector (which is introduced in the next section).  The concept of social

phenomena is thus broken down into two major parts:  astrosocial phenomena (as

defined above) and non-astrosocial phenomena (a category which includes all types of

social phenomena not considered to be astrosocial in nature).  Astrosocial phenomena

are thus a form of social phenomena which describe all the characteristics of social

structures, social groups, and societies created through human interactions and



       The Astrosocial and Non-Astrosocial Sectors.  As depicted in Figure One,

astrosocial phenomena originate in the astrosocial sector of a given society, while

non-astrosocial phenomena originate in the non-astrosocial sector.  Interactions and

overlaps exist where the two sectors meet.  The separation of a particular society into

two sectors interacting at the macro-level of complexity represents a dimension of

social life previously unexplored as an important element of cultural character and an

instigator of social change.

Figure One:  Astrosocial and Non-Astrosocial Sectors

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      A major part of early astrosociological thought must address where to draw the

conceptual line between astrosocial and non-astrosocial phenomena.  Indeed, as soon

becomes clear upon thinking about the relationship between astrosocial and non-

astrosocial phenomena, the two are connected and routinely interacting with one

another.  The separation of a society into astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors is an

artificial academic exercise, but it forces attention upon the conception of a separate

astrosocial sector.  This is important because the conception of an astrosocial sector is

not found in the sociological literature.  Figure One represents only an approximation 

without the complexities of the astrosocial sector, the non-astrosocial sector, and the 

interaction between the two.  As will soon become clear, the relationship between the 

two sectors is both dynamic and ever-changing.  Cooperative efforts between government

agencies (e.g., NASA) and private companies (e.g., Boeing), or educational organizations,

are commonplace in contract work and research efforts.  Connections also involve the

funding of efforts that benefit astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors.

       The distinction between the astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors is further

complicated by the fact that many organizations possess elements of social structure

that are parts of both astrosocial and non-astrosocial segments of society.  Examples

include universities, branches of government (and their agencies), and corporations. 

Universities have astronomy departments in addition to non-astrosocial departments such

as Spanish and agriculture.  The federal government includes agencies such as the IRS in

addition to NASA.  And a single corporation may have one division that manufactures

rockets and another that manufactures commercial jets.  Again, the line between the

astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors of a single society is often difficult to draw

precisely; but it is necessary in formulating an astrosociological theoretical framework.

       The interaction between the astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors is but just one

social dimension generating social change.  The separation of society into only two

sectors serves to focus attention on this type of interaction; it does not imply that a

particular society is divided only along this dimensional line.  Thus, it represents an

astrosociologically-centric approach aimed at placing the focus of the sociological

imagination squarely on a new area of sociological inquiry.


       Other Definitional and Theoretical Issues.  This essay focuses mostly on developed

(industrial and post-industrial) societies.  Developing societies, in contrast, possess

weakly defined astrosocial structures as a rule, but they may increase their cohesion and

influence with the assistance of astrosocial structures in developed societies.  For

example, the astrosocial sector of a developing society may be bolstered by the United

States space agency (i.e., NASA) providing a contract for construction of a piece of space-

related equipment or the training of an astronaut to fly in space as part of one of its

missions.  For all societies, then, the development of the astrosocial sector is part of the

general modernization process.  Each society is assumed to be characterized by a unique

astrosocial sector.  This assumption is thus built into the very definition of astrosociology.

Figure Two:  Astrosociology and the Four Sociological Perspectives

       Astrosociologists must look at all levels of social reality or complexity. The macro-

level model offered in Figure One is of central importance, but it in no way represents all

the considerations of astrosociology.  This implies that the major perspectives of

sociology (i.e., functionalism, conflict theory, interactionism) should be applied when

appropriate to the study of space and society as defined by astrosociology.  A diverse

approach is vital as all perspectives and levels of complexity provide additional insights

into any understanding any sociological phenomenon.

       As with sociology in general, this multidimensional approach yields the best well-

rounded understanding of astrosocial phenomena and their interactions with non-

astrosocial elements of society.  Figure Two provides examples of issues of interest to

astrosociologists in the four most prominent sociological perspectives.  Undeniably, other

perspectives also have important contributions to make as well.  The reader should keep

these examples in mind as various aspects of astrosociology are discussed throughout

this essay.

       Before moving on, it is important to note that this essay does not offer a “theory of

astrosociology.”  Its purpose is to provide an initial working definition and briefly discuss

some of the important issues.  This essay sets the parameters and scope for

understanding astrosociology as a sociological subfield, but it is much too early to

completely shape this body of knowledge.  Theoretical models will be offered by many of

those who join the astrosociological community and research will contribute in the

formulation and refinement of theories to follow.  On the other hand, this essay does

offer several research hypotheses which may serve as starting points for astrosociological

inquiry, and thus the creation of one or more major theoretical models.

       At this early stage of development, however, even the definition of astrosociology is

subject to minor refinement at one end of the continuum to total reformulation at the

other extreme.  Thus, this essay represents a serious starting point from which the

meaning and scope of astrosociology can move toward a greater consensus as the

astrosociological community forms and contributes to the growth of this new body of

knowledge and literature.  At the outset, one fact is immutably clear, however: 

astrosociology must take a sociological approach in terms of theoretical orientation. 

That is, the development of the sociological imagination is vital and astrosociology must

be approached as a sociological subfield at heart.


       The Scope of Astrosociology.  This definition clearly implies a focus on a wide-

ranging collection of certain types of social phenomena.  Below, the five central themes

of astrosociology summarize important points of focus.  Other issues are added as this

discussion proceeds, but they are all based on the following areas of focus as they are

fundamental to an astrosociological approach:

       (1) the nature of the line separating astrosocial and non-astrosocial phenomena
how each can directly interact with, and influence, the other) which is
            the basis for the four following themes of astrosociology [society separated into
            two sectors, as shown in Figure One]

       (2) the impact of astrosocial phenomena (e.g., discoveries and new technologies,
            space policies, astrosocial activities of all types) on social/cultural change in
            other parts of society [impact of astrosocial sector on non-astrosocial sector];

       (3) how the various non-astrosocial forces (including norms and values) combine to
            influence astrosocial forces in terms of direction, priority, and other aspects of
    astrosocial change [impact of non-astrosocial sector on astrosocial sector];

       (4) how astrosocial activities are organized and pursued by people, organizations,
            social institutions, entire societies, and global consortiums [middle and
            microsociology in the astrosocial sector]
; and:

       (5) how the interactions between the astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors --
            including cooperation, accommodation, and conflict -- contribute to the various
            forces of social change generated by society to shape larger cultural norms and
            values, and thereby future activities and priorities/policies [interactions between
            the two sectors]

Social and cultural change is thus driven by activities in the astrosocial sector, the non-

astrosocial sector, and interactions between the two sectors.  The scope of

astrosociology is indeed vast in many ways.  The themes above serve to organize the

discussion in this section.  Again, an initial understanding of astrosociology, and this

entire essay, is fundamentally tied to these five themes.

       Regarding the first theme, the separation of a particular society into the astrosocial

and non-astrosocial sectors is a central component of the astrosociological framework. 

This point was already discussed with the presentation of Figure One.  It is important to

point out that this general approach, as presented in this essay, leads to the study of

astrosocial phenomena in a new and more organized manner.  In this context,

astrosociology is an area of study currently neglected by sociologists in a systematic and

focused manner.

       The second theme focuses on the astrosocial sector’s impact on the non-astrosocial

sector, and society as a whole, as activities within it are carried out.  This theme includes

a focus on astrosocial phenomena and takes into account the current level of

development of the astrosocial sector.  The growing importance and scope of astrosocial

forces extends from the time humans first sought to understand the cosmos; and

elements of the astrosocial sector form at that historical point in a particular society’s

development.  From that time on, astrosocial phenomena are generated by human

activities within astrosocial groups.  Astrosocial phenomena tend to increasingly influence

all parts of a particular society as science and technology become more sophisticated and

entrenched in the overall societal social structure and larger culture.  Social structures

dedicated to science and technology will increasingly concentrate on astrosocial


       The second theme also implies the scope of astrosociology includes the study of the

impact of astrosocial science and technology on the non-astrosocial sector.  An obvious

example is how the outcomes of research and technologies created by NASA are

transferred to the non-astrosocial sector, including how larger culture and social

structures are affected.  The level of astrosocial influence on overall society will increase

in significance and scope as a particular society becomes increasingly dependent on

science and technology.  The second theme is therefore critical to the astrosociological

approach because it characterizes the general shift in such a society’s emphasis toward

astrosocial priorities and influences.  Astrosocial forces become increasingly important.

       The third theme must be emphasized because the non-astrosocial sector is still the

most influential as it includes all social phenomena and social structures not related to

those considered to be astrosocial in nature.  These aspects of society are historically

dominant, especially before space-related activities (and, of course, flight itself) became

possible.  The hypothesized increasing influence of the astrosocial sector must be seen in

relative historical terms.  Much of the control of astrosocial activities, such as the

pursuits of various objectives, is controlled by elements of the non-astrosocial sector. 

For example, when the House Science Committee decides on future funding for NASA

programs, a non-astrosocial institution of society is having a clear and direct influence on

the astrosocial parts of that society.  This relationship not only affects NASA, but also all

the contractors and their workers involved in any program under consideration.

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       Thus, the non-astrosocial sector will lose some of its importance in relative terms,

but it will still represent the dominant sector.  There are many non-astrosocial

institutions serving important social functions.  Such non-astrosocial needs will remain

and require fulfillment.  Examples include meeting the needs for food, shelter, defense,

education, religion, and community.

       The fourth theme relates to the study of astrosocial organizations and the middle

and micro levels of complexity.  It is important to study how astrosocial groups carry out

their functions within an organizational subculture.  This essay focuses most strongly on

the interactive effects between the two societal sectors, but the study of astrosocial

organizations is no less important.  Astrosocial subcultures function in way that often

impact on the astrosocial sector in particular and the entire society generally.  Diane

Vaughan’s (1996) study concerning the Challenger launch decision that resulted in

tragedy due, in part, to a culture that normalized risk, and the lessons not learned from it

(which carried over to the Columbia disaster), is a good example of astrosociological

research in this area.  Of course, it is not seen as part of an astrosociological literature

because, technically, it does not yet exist.  How astrosocial organizations operate and

how they interact with non-astrosocial organizations and groups are both of central

interest to astrosociologists.

       The fifth theme is a vital component of the astrosociological approach.  The scope

of astrosociology is unquestionably extended to cover the complex web of relationships

and behaviors associated with all forms of astrosocial phenomena.  However, a major

concern of astrosociology must focus upon how the astrosocial sector interacts with the

non-astrosocial sector.  A major concern, therefore, involves the relationships and mutual

influences between the astrosocial sector and non-astrosocial sector and, in turn, how

they affect a given society as a whole.  Although the line separating the astrosocial and

non-astrosocial sectors is not always obvious, even to the participants, and may not be

the most important social dimension in a particular set of circumstances, the interplay

between the sectors does create social forces that impact on the particular society on an

overall basis.

       While astrosocial forces contribute more to social change as time passes, a great

deal of overall social change for a particular society results from social forces generated

by the interactions between he astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors.  An important

area of research is related to how much social change results from these interactive

effects.  In fact, it is important to measure the proportion of social change created by

non-astrosocial, astrosocial, and interactive forces at different points in a particular

society’s history.

       The interactions between the astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors of a given

society are the general focus, and this implies a two-way or mutual influence of each on

the other taking place on an ongoing basis.  Each focus is one side of a two-sided coin. 

Both sides are vital to the overall understanding of how a particular society functions on

this previously unexplored social dimension.  There is cooperation, accommodation, and

conflict between the two sectors as ongoing relationships between the two continue to

work themselves out.  Again, the implication of why astrosociology is becoming more

relevant to sociology relates to the increasing importance and influence of the astrosocial

sector and astrosocial phenomena; assuming that a given industrialized society continues

to develop into a spacefaring society.


       Concluding Remarks Concerning Definition and Scope.  The remainder of this

discussion touches on some of major areas of astrosociological study in terms of how

science is carried out and what technologies are developed in astrosocial sectors of

society; but most importantly is how these results contribute to the present social

environment and to social change.  In summary, then, the general approach is to study

how astrosocial and non-astrosocial phenomena are interconnected, how they mutually

influence one another, how these effects influence a given society endogenously on an

overall basis, and finally how all these interactions and phenomena affect other societies

as exogenous social forces.

       It is important to take a multi-perspective approach (see Figure Two).  All three

levels of social complexity (i.e., micro, middle, and macro) each contribute important

insights as well.  Much of this discussion focuses on the macro level, but this reflects the

objective of this essay which is to provide the reader with an overall understanding of


       The exploration of astrosociological issues in the remainder of this essay is based

on the foregoing discussion.  It is not an exhaustive coverage of such issues, being

essentially the first comprehensive treatment of astrosociology; but it is intended to

provide a solid foundation for the generation of the further development of

astrosociology.  It is therefore far from the last word in determining the definition, scope,

and implications of astrosociology.  It is, in fact, only an initial attempt to shape the

fundamental issues of this proposed new sociological subfield.


(revised on 04/18/2004)


Abt, Helmut A. (2000).  “Do Important Papers Produce High Citation Counts?”
Scientometrics, (48): 65-70.  [This is only one example of Abt’s work in the area of “bibliometrics” or “socio-astronomy”].

Heck, André (1980).  Updated Bibliography of Socio-Astronomy.  Retrieved on August 26,
2003.  (

Tough, Allen (1995).  The Positive Consequences of SETI Before Detection.  Retrieved
on December 25, 2002 (corrected).  (

Vaughan, Diane (1996).  The Challenger Launch Decision:  Risky Technology, Culture,
and Deviance at NASA
.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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Inaugural Essay:


The Definition and Relevance of Astrosociology

in the Twenty-First Century


(Part Two:  Relevance of Astrosociology
as a New Subfield of Sociology)  1, 2



Jim Pass, Ph.D.

(© copyright 2004 by Jim Pass)


[Part Two posted 11/10/2004]



Introduction:  Addressing Two Fundamental Issues

       This essay as a whole, considering Part One and Part Two together, provides a small

glimpse of the potential of astrosociology as a new subfield of sociology.  As the first

comprehensive treatment of this subfield, it is not possible to foresee all topics or predict

which directions it will take in the future.  This essay can only offer cursory treatments of

areas predicted to be important under the purview of astrosociology.  Therefore, while the

areas covered here do not represent an entire listing of all possible issues, they do

indicate a good initial overview of the types of issues argued to be astrosociological.

       Before moving on to address the various issues supportive of the basic argument

that astrosociology is indeed a relevant new subfield, it is important to restate (1) the

meaning of a fundamental concept and (2) the importance of an organized sociological

approach.  The following section presents moderately brief introductions to specific

astrosociological areas of concentration.  Three areas receive the greatest attention while

several others merit reference as additional important elements of a list.  The final

section offers a concluding argument in favor of the relevancy of astrosociology in the

twenty-first century and the consequential need to develop it as a new subdiscipline.


       Further Clarification of a Vital Definition.  It is important to clarify the meaning of a

fundamental concept due to its vital role in placing boundaries around the types of social

and cultural patterns appropriately falling under the purview of astrosociology.  A proper

definition of this concept remains vital for a basic understanding of how astrosociology

ties all similar social phenomena together.  Currently, the discipline of sociology tends to

consider the various elements covered by this proposed single substantive area as dis-

connected topics of study; certainly not viewed as elements of a single subfield.

       The concept in question is astrosocial phenomena. It relates to all types of asso-

ciations, either direct or indirect, between social or cultural patterns and space (beyond

Earth).  The link between space and society is the key to the definition of astrosocial

phenomena.  Any other expression associated with the root term, astrosocial, refines the

focus of an astrosocial phenomenon in a specific way; and it thereby reflects a more

precise topic or issue.  Examples include astrosocial group, astrosocial education, and

astrosocial sector.

       Astrosocial phenomena comprise a subset of all social phenomena that embody the

very heart of sociological inquiry.  Again, astrosocial phenomena relate to human social

patterns characterized by some type of a relationship to space.  Examples include con-

ducting space science (e.g., astronomy, SETI, astrobiology), spaceflight operations,

planetary geology, and robotic missions to other bodies in space.  Astrosocial phenomena

also include engineers and scholars working on projects related to the space program

within the aerospace industry. In contrast, non-astrosocial phenomena consist of social

phenomena unrelated to the space within a particular society.

       No reason exists to redefine other well-accepted terms associated with space.

Examples include space law, space policy, space program, spaceflight, and space science.

As explained above, however, all such social phenomena represent astrosocial pheno-

mena; and therefore, they fall within the proposed scope of astrosociology.

       The distinction between non-astrosocial and astrosocial phenomena is vital to give

astrosociology its unique focus.  Moreover, the two subcategories of social phenomena

possess a relationship to one another.  Indeed, recognition of the connection between

these two dimensions of social life remains an ongoing concern in order to determine the

effects of astrosocial phenomena on parts of a given society not related to space.  Other-

wise, how is it possible to determine the specific effects of astrosocial phenomena?  In

the reverse direction, it remains important to understand how non-astrosocial phenomena

affect various aspects of the space program, including its focus, direction, and relevance

in society.  The overall astrosociological approach includes both considerations.

        The significance of astrosocial phenomena is further demonstrated when comparing

it to non-astrosocial phenomenon, such as what may be termed space phenomena.

When considering space phenomena, the focus is on characteristics of the physical

properties of objects and processes in space without human interaction.  As such, space

phenomena are not inherently social phenomena and thus not astrosocial phenomena.

Space phenomena remain important, of course. However, they are not the specific focus of

astrosociology unless a particular space phenomenon becomes linked to human beings in

some way.  For example, an asteroid on a collision course with Earth is, by itself, a space

phenomenon.  However, when discovered by human beings, studied, and perhaps even

redirected off its collision course, each of these social patterns represents an astrosocial

phenomenon.  Astrosocial phenomena, in this context, refer to humans interacting with

one another as they relate in some way with space phenomena.  Thus, there is an impor-

tant relationship between astrosocial phenomena and non-social phenomena reflecting, in

part, how humans conduct space sciences and where their efforts fit in the overall social

structure and culture of a particular society.

       Thus, astrosociology places a strong emphasis upon the scrutiny of human involve-

ment in space and the effects this involvement has on society.  Furthermore, astrosoci-

ology is only partially interested in space scientists making discoveries, sending robotic

probes to the planets, or astronauts going into space.  It is also dedicated to under-

standing how these behaviors impact upon society in terms of social change and cultural

change, and how such changes transform social systems into the future.  The overall

character of a particular society represents an important focus, then – but so do its

various components including the attributes of social interactions, subcultures, social

groups, and institutions (analyzed from both a cross-sectional and a longitudinal



       Bringing Sociology In.  The rationale for this two-part essay is to demonstrate the

overdue nature of applying the sociological perspective to the examination of (1) astro-

social phenomena and (2) the interrelationships between astrosocial phenomena and

other facets of a specific society.  Bringing sociology into this area of inquiry is largely

unrealized despite the irrefutably significant effects of astrosocial phenomena.  Therefore,

the application of the sociological imagination (Mills, 1959) to understanding the rela-

tionship between the typical citizen and astrosocial phenomena remains vital due to its

ongoing, and arguably increasing, relevance.  Presently, the implications of astrosocial

phenomena for the individual at the micro and middle levels of social reality are largely

unexplored even as they remain critical to understand.

       The promise of sociology resides in its potential capacity to recognize the connec-

tions between individuals and both the social structures and the cultural communities

comprising their society (Mills, 1959).  This fundamental application of the sociological

imagination seems obvious when considering the historical development of the discipline,

and its attention to “normal” social phenomena.  However, the ongoing failure to apply

the sociological imagination to an understanding of astrosocial phenomena demands

special consideration of astrosociological issues.  Modern human activities in space and

related to space, characterizing the space age, have been taking place since the 1950s,

yet their impact on society over the years is largely unknown due to a significant level of

sociological indifference and perhaps even a certain level of contempt.  The establishment

of astrosociology serves to end this failure.

        Typical members of space capable societies know of the existence of their space

program, remain updated about many of its successes and failures, and even support it on

a general level.  However, most of them do not see how it affects their everyday lives or

living conditions, or what they can do to contribute to changes in space policy.  Sociolo-

gists are only modestly more enlightened.  Thus, even most sociologists are not in strong

possession of the sociological imagination as it relates to astrosocial phenomena.

       How else can one explain the absence of astrosociology or something like it? As an

adjunct, where is the astrosociological literature?  The “selected bibliography” section of

Part Two of this essay includes references that analyze space issues from the perspec-

tives of other disciplines and occupations, though very few from the sociological perspec-

tive.  However, this indifference is not a universal attribute characteristic of all sociolo-

gists.  B.J. Bluth (1983), for example, advocated the study of space issues from a socio-

logical perspective long ago.  Bainbridge (1991) made an important observation about

sociology’s indifference.  Part of his argument involved the recognition that in the face of

a substantial interest in space on a societal scale (among citizens and space scientists),

sociologists are less well prepared to deal with it compared to the scientists in the so-

called “hard sciences.”  Rudoff (1996:75), in considering the importance of astrosocial

issues, asked a simple though very revealing question: “And where is sociology?”  A sim-

ple conclusion thus presents itself.  Bluth, Bainbridge, Rudoff, along with Tough (1998)

and many others, have long recognized the potential value of the “sociology of space” to

the discipline and to society. Proponents of astrosociology continue to marvel at its

absence in the face of this untapped potential.

       In one attempt to change these circumstances, a group of ASA members attempted

to create a new section on “exo-sociology” a few years ago without success.3  While this

subdiscipline is renamed based on reasons explained in Part One of this essay (Pass

2004), the focus of astrosociology is much the same as called for by others in the past.

Indeed, while success for the current effort represents a difficult challenge, the rationale

for it is well established.

       Historically, many areas of social life benefitted from the application of the socio-

logical imagination.  However, a central theme of this essay relates to the ongoing failure

of applying the sociological imagination to astrosocial (social) structures, or to the ideas

and values constituting the astrosocial subcultures, which exist within the astrosocial

sector.  While sociology possesses a strong tradition of studying social space, the same

remains untrue about studying human behavior in outer space.  In summary, then, the

issues falling under the purview of astrosociology have not benefited from the invocation

of the sociological imagination in a consistent, systematic manner.  As such, the influ-

ences of astrosocial phenomena on individuals, subcultures, and social structures – as

well as influences in the reverse direction – remain largely unknown despite the fact that

they have influenced industrial and post-industrial societies since the beginning of the

space age.

       It is best to view sociological inattention to astrosociological issues in relative

terms.  Individual studies do indeed focus on NASA’s subculture, safety, or on various

elements of the space program.  In fact, however, these efforts are uncommon in main-

stream sociology.  Moreover, sociological works touching on various astrosociological

issues become lost, not only among the ever-growing volume of sociological works, but

also among the greater quantity of non-sociological and unscientific approaches.  In con-

trast, the other social sciences, particularly social anthropology and psychology, remain

far ahead of sociology in terms of their focus on interpersonal relationships related to

space (Harrison 2001).  History and journalism address astrosociological issues much

more frequently as well.

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       The issues related directly to astrosociology constitute a wide-ranging set of areas

of concentration purely by themselves (Pass 2004).  This recognition is necessary to allow

for the possibility of organizing all of these areas in a purposeful manner as various

aspects of a single sociological subfield called astrosociology, rather than allowing the

status quo to continue in which they remain as “unrelated” approaches.  As there is no

obvious coordinated effort to build a single unified literature, this essay represents a

starting point intended to emphasize an area of social life historically ignored, or at least

undervalued, by sociology for far too long.

       The fact that sociologists have yet to establish a specific astrosociological literature

comprising a single subfield is unlikely a reflection upon the importance or relevance of

astrosociological issues.  Arguably, the absence of astrosociology is due in large measure

to the momentum of indifference carried forth within the discipline year after year.

Whether biases exist against the study of astrosocial phenomena, or it does reflect a

simple historical indifference, or even some sort of combination of both, such conditions

serve to counteract the establishment of astrosociology.  Overcoming such a social reality

requires challenging the status quo in an overt and forceful manner.  To do so, one must

demonstrate its merits as a substantive area and its positive impact on the discipline in

order to ensure its acceptance and allow for progress thereafter.

       Because so little research exists from a sociological perspective, the number of

possible topics of study, including historical analyses of the space age itself, remains

wide open.  As such, those who choose to pursue astrosociology can follow their interests

with the certainty of providing unique contributions to the subfield as well as to the

discipline that continues to ignore it.  Meanwhile, this potential to produce unpredictable,

yet groundbreaking findings awaits fulfillment.


Astrosociology:  Reviewing Major Areas of Concentration

       Astrosociology, as proposed here, is the sociological study of astrosocial phenomena

at its core.  An understanding of astrosocial phenomena, while vitally important in itself,

also provides the capability of comparing them to other social phenomena as well as

allowing recognition of their interactive effects.  Figure One found in Part One of this

essay (Pass, 2004), depicting what may be considered the first iteration of the General

Model, reflects this as one of the two important elements that tie this discussion to-

gether.  The other major element, related to the general model, consists of the five

themes of astrosociology.  The five themes, when considered together, comprise the

initial astrosociological framework in conjunction with the General Model.

       It is important to reiterate that the discussions of critical astrosociological issues to

follow serve to demonstrate their relevance to human societies and consequently to the

discipline of sociology.  The overall discussion represents more of a framework than any-

thing approaching a comprehensive treatment of this proposed substantive area.  The

purpose is to provide a general orientation from which astrosociological theory and re-

search can proceed in the future.


       Astrosocial Phenomena and Culture.  In the General Model, the culture plays a

crucial part in determining overall change in a particular society.  The culture reflects the

relative importance of astrosocial phenomena at any given point in time, and thus shifting

cultural patterns contribute to re-shape the character of astrosocial phenomena into the

future.  Cultural patterns at all levels of social reality command ongoing attention as they

all contribute to this change.

       The organization of this brief discussion revolves around Bierstedt’s (1970) three

major dimensions of culture (i.e., values and other types of ideas, norms, and material

culture) as they directly relate to astrosocial phenomena.  Together, these elements

strongly influence the character and direction of a particular society in conjunction with its

social structures.  In this context, the culture consists of social patterns that both favor

and disfavor astrosocial phenomena.  Accordingly, an ongoing assessment of how various

subcultures, as well as the public at large, regard space issues contributes to the deter-

mination if a particular society is moving toward a greater or lesser level of integration of

astrosocial phenomena into everyday social life.

       In general, ideas expressing the lure of, and a connection to, the cosmos become

important components of the cultures of all societies.  Upon looking into the night sky,

certain questions inevitably arise.  Who are we?  Where did we come from?  How do we

fit in the overall scheme of things?  What is out there?  Is there life beyond Earth?

Should we go into space to find out?  How much risk is acceptable versus intolerable?  Is

there a limit to “acceptable” loses of equipment and especially human lives?  How much

of a priority is the exploration of space?  The answers to such questions define whether a

culture is closer to an Earthcentric or what may be termed spacecentric.  In the United

States, for example, a potentially tenuous foundation of public support (68%) currently

exists in a strongly Earthcentric environment as demonstrated once again in the July 2004

Gallup Poll (Carlson 2004).  An important focus of astrosociological research involves the

continual assessment of where a society falls along this continuum between these two

extremes.  A particular society answers these questions in its own unique ways as it

moves through history.

       Astrosociologists should focus on the types of values and general ideas that both

favor and disfavor astrosocial phenomena, in addition to the value conflict generated.  As

one example, how do the distinctive values of various religious groups influence a soci-

ety’s movement toward, or away from, greater adoption of space activities?  What is the

nature of value conflict among religious groups?  How would the various religious groups

react to the discovery of extraterrestrial life and how would this affect their dogmas?  As

a second example, how strongly do economic values contribute to the level of astrosocial

phenomena as corporations pursue profits?  Third, should we solve Earth-bound social

problems, such as poverty and terrorism, before spending resources devoted to pursuing

the exploration of space?  Value conflict is inevitable in any complex society, and conse-

quently its changing dynamics require an ongoing assessment of both endogenous and

exogenous forces that contribute to it.

       A society’s norms support and protect values.  If astrosocial phenomena are unim-

portant or underdeveloped, the norms regulating them tend to be absent or weak.  Resis-

tive rules may even exist.  Supportive policies and even laws develop as astrosocial phen-

omena become more widespread.  For example, when corporations determine that space

operations can increase their dwindling levels of profits, they will lobby for the formali-

zation of social norms consistent with this pursuit.  A contemporary example of this may

soon play out in the area of space tourism with Virgin Galactic suborbital flights.4  Con-

sequently, the development of health and safety regulations for the infant space tourism

industry becomes a new priority as this new set of astrosocial phenomena begin to affect

other institutions and groups.

        When considering the culture of a particular society, its material culture should

demand substantial attention.  Indeed, its importance lies in the fact that it reflects the

culture in physical form.  In the context of astrosociology, the material culture consists of

the physical manifestations of the social patterns related to human involvement in space,

currently mostly a reflection of the state’s space program.  Current examples include

spaceports, rockets, space shuttles, a space station, robotic probes, space laws and for-

mal space policies, and spacesuits.  In the future, new examples will likely include Moon

and Mars bases, a truly private commercialization of space, space tourism including space

hotels, and long-duration spacecraft.  Based on relevant social values, the rules for the

use of these various physical cultural elements regulate behavior in the astrosocial sector.

An ongoing evaluation of the material culture specifically dedicated to astrosocial pheno-

mena represents an important measure of its relative importance and influence within a

particular society.  Astrosociologists should watch for the growth and influence of space

law and space policy, as well as the construction of new space infrastructure in the

material culture.

       If a society is to move to the spacefaring phase of subsistence, cultural elements

must support it.  Commonly shared norms and values strongly supporting astrosocial

phenomena, within both the astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors, can forge strong

connections to various subcultures and social structures that encourage the establishment

of a higher level of commitment to space.  On the other hand, an absence of strong norms

and values favorable to astrosocial phenomena, or indifference, result in a space program

and future in space characterized by much less integration within the overall social sys-

tem.  Astrosociological research dedicated to the relationship between a society’s culture

and the relative extent of human activities in space represents an important area of con-

centration on a longitudinal basis.  In any society, culture, in conjunction with its social

structures, combine in a complex interactive manner to shape a society’s future direction

and character.

       Finally, two areas related to culture require attention. The first is science fiction and

its impact on culture and other aspects of a society.  Science fiction is a literature of

change (Landon 1995) and thus affects ideas in the general culture as well as in the

sciences.  Its relationship to astrosocial phenomena continues to represent an important

consideration.  The second area is the more controversial category of cultural ideas rela-

ted to alien life allegedly already on Earth (including UFOs, and topics such as alien

abductions, cattle mutilations, and crop circles).5  A critical distinction exists between

astrobiology (including SETI) and present-day claims of alien detection on Earth, as only

the former belong to the mainstream space sciences.  Determining the authenticity of

claims of contact with alien life on Earth lies outside the scope of astrosociological

research.  However, these ideas exist in the culture to an extensive extent.  Conse-

quently, their connection to astrosocial phenomena on that basis may be cause for

further exploration.


       Considering a Spacefaring Future.  While the General Model does not directly pre-

dict a spacefaring future, the model does imply such an outcome as a strong possibility

based on the growth and influence of the astrosocial sector. As a contrast, a space

capable society is defined here as one that can reach space on its own accord (e.g., the

United States, Russia, Japan, France, China, and the ESA as a consortium of nations).

However, a space capable society is not necessarily a spacefaring society.  The latter

represents a significant hypothetical outcome worthy as a major area of concentration

under the scope of this new subfield.

       Astrosociologists should be careful in their use of the concept spacefaring society,

refraining from the further application of this term to space capable societies.  This

distinction has no bearing on the terms spacefaring and spacefarer when used to reflect

going into space in general terms and humans exploring space (e.g., astronauts, cosmo-

nauts), respectively.  However, if a high level of confusion is generated, it should

trigger a reassessment of this position.  In contrast, all social scientists should reserve

the label of spacefaring society for properly characterizing the transformation of an entire

social system that reaches a threshold in which a specific set of social and cultural

conditions exist.

       Why recommend this approach?  Consider the rough comparison of a contemporary

space-capable nation’s level of space exploration to that of a European nation at a similar

stage of sea exploration (long preceding its glory days of discovery).  Such a nation would

be floating in slow leaky boats near the shoreline where it is relatively safe and assis-

tance remains readily available.6  It is not a seafaring society because its crude technol-

ogies, inadequate resources, and underdeveloped sailing skills make it extremely hazard-

ous to move further out into the vast unknown oceans.  Until substantially improving such

conditions, land-based social phenomena dominate everyday life.  Similarly, space capa-

ble societies possess only a rudimentary space exploration capability.  Earth-based social

phenomena dominate as the hazards of space travel currently overwhelm our abilities to

move very far away from our shores (i.e., the Earth).

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        If a spacefaring society is one of the possible outcomes of socioeconomic organiza-

tion for a particular post-industrial, then it is important to understand the social forces

and conditions that both contribute to this outcome and those that provide countervailing

pressures against it.  Benefits of astrosocial phenomena to space capable societies are

well documented elsewhere as spinoffs,7 technology transfers, and applicable findings

from NASA research programs (see, for example, Harrison 2001; Hardersen 1997; Lewis

1997). Although not currently recognized perhaps by most citizens, leaders of post-

industrial societies will potentially recognize such advantages, especially as the Earth’s

finite resources become exhausted.

       Conversely, countervailing pressures include numerous possibilities such as political

turmoil, simple neglect of space issues, anthropocentrism resulting in deliberate isolation,

and chaos due to a variety of social forces.  A space capable society would have to avoid

tragic negative trends that could result in a dystopia in which all major areas of social life

became harsh and spacefaring objectives became unimportant compared to survival objec-

tives.8  Overwhelming social problems could escalate to levels capable of derailing a

society’s course toward a spacefaring future.  Astrosocial phenomena would become rela-

tively unimportant under these circumstances.  Astrosociologists must study the social

conditions and forces contributing to a spacefaring future as well as those delaying or

even denying such a future.

       Despite various social forces that may operate against its development, the space-

faring mode of production (Marx and Engels 1976) – or more generally, the spacefaring

mode of subsistence – remains a serious possibility for the moderate to distant future.

Hence, construction of a new model is required to characterize the stages of development

along a continuum starting from the simplest societies (Earthcentric forms) to an end

point characterized by one or more categories of spacefaring societies (spacecentric

forms).  Additionally, potential alternative outcomes deserve strong consideration.  Such a

model could also focus mainly on the dimension of astrosocial phenomena in single soci-

ety over time in terms of its own changing characteristics in addition to its relationships

to other cultural and social structures.  This type of exercise not only allows for the deter-

mination of astrosocial development in the past and during the present (on a short scale),

but it also permits an extrapolation of changes into the future.

       Of more immediate concern, however, is the development of the definition of space-

faring society as a concept that is acceptable within the astrosociological community.

Such a task deserves greater attention than can be provided here.  Even so, general para-

meters provide an initial insight that a spacefaring society possesses a fundamental

character different from anything witnessed in the past.  That is, a unique set of social

conditions typify a spacefaring society.  Every major institution is highly involved in some

way with carrying out space policy as a high priority, and thus space law is well devel-

oped.  A space-based economy flourishes, for example.  Astrosocial phenomena are highly

pervasive and vital for the society’s survival.  Space issues are intertwined in a multitude

of ways into the everyday social interactions taking place in subcultures, social groups,

organizations, and institutions.  The larger culture reflects the importance of astrosocial

phenomena through their incorporation as highly important values, strong norms protect-

ing them, and their omnipresence in a space-dominated material culture.  With that said,

it is important to emphasize that a spacefaring society is not equivalent to a utopian

society.  For example, military or corporate authoritarian regimes are potentially compat-

ible with a spacefaring infrastructure.

       Even the most sophisticated contemporary space programs, capable of sending its

spacefarers only to low Earth orbit on a sustained basis, possess only the crudest social

conditions necessary for their long-term transformation into a spacefaring society.  Such a

space program remains characterized by too much compartmentalization within its society

to consider it a spacefaring infrastructure.  A spacefaring society consists of a much

broader expansion of this infrastructure in the private sector; and, in fact, all parts of that

society and its culture.

       Still, the establishment of a spacefaring society is indeed one of the likely hypothet-

ical outcomes that may occur.  Any particular post-industrial society has the seeds of its

transformation into a spacefaring society embedded into its overall social structure.  Much

has to occur for this transformation to develop as described.  Moreover, the long course

toward a spacefaring society is unlikely to be smooth or straightforward; or even certain.

       One final question deserves contemplation when addressing a possible spacefaring

future.  Is it likely that human activities in space will increase in terms of importance and

scope?  Although it is a simple question, the answer to it has important ramifications for

both society and sociology.  An affirmative reply to this question alone speaks to the

relevance of astrosociology and its necessity as a new subfield.  Even a negative reply

would merit more sociological attention than is currently the case.  It is important to

study the decline of human involvement in space and the probable cyclical patterns, just

as it is important to study its increase.  Although a spacefaring future remains only a

distant possibility, and by no means a certainty, it warrants study so recognition of

changing social patterns related to astrosocial phenomena are neither missed nor mis-


       A large measure of astrosociology’s relevance lies in the understanding of the chang-

ing nature of societies and how part of that change is traceable to astrosocial pheno-

mena. Working in space and exploring its properties remain unarguably expensive. How-

ever, the benefits of knowledge, inspiration, and economic returns are difficult to dupli-

cate by other means in the long term.  Thus, the possibility of a spacefaring future exem-

plifies a rational extrapolation of past and current conditions rather than a “far out”



       The Social Impact of the Space Sciences.  Fundamental to the general astrosocio-

logical approach is the direct examination of how the space sciences affect a particular

society.  The study of space phenomena, including the Earth from space, represents

something greater than simply the immediate focus on the findings of a given project.

That is, while seemingly non-sociological on the surface, incorporated into the study of

space phenomena are social (including cultural) implications for human beings, their social

groups, and their societies.  Thus, human scientific activities related to space, an impor-

tant category of astrosocial phenomena, are of central importance and worthy of deliber-

ate scrutiny.  Scientific discoveries do not represent primary concerns in themselves.

Astrosociology does involve the study of how space scientists make discoveries in the

course of conducting their research and developing their theories, but more important is

how these very efforts affect the various elements of human societies and contribute to


       In fact, however, the relationship between astrosociology and the space sciences is

twofold based on the two-way interactions between astrosocial and non-astrosocial phen-

omena on a more general level.  The reciprocal influences involve: (1) the impact of the

space sciences on society based both on their promises and their deliveries of scientific

findings and technical innovations and (2) the effects in the reverse direction in which

private and public support (and other non-astrosocial forces) shape the character and

direction of the space sciences.  Anything relevant to any particular society, perhaps

especially to a space capable society, is relevant to sociology as well, even as the dis-

cipline currently fails to recognize it.  As such, the growing significance of the space

sciences is yet another indication of astrosociology’s increasing relevance as we venture

further into the twenty-first century.

       Science and technology are necessary for the development of industrial and post-

industrial societies into more sophisticated socioeconomic forms.  This reality continues

when moving beyond the post-industrial mode of production, potentially toward a space-

faring future.  In such a scenario, the focus of scientific and technological efforts turns

increasingly away from the Earth and toward the cosmos.  The branch of space medicine is

an example of a traditional discipline expanding to incorporate space issues.  An in-

creased shift from the terrestrial sciences to the space sciences is due in part to the vari-

ous types of incentives that space promises.

       The wonders of science and the comforts of technology provide important additional

reasons to continue along this course.  Moreover, the discoveries of astronomical research

can be inspiring to the public as well as to the scientific community.  Positive public re-

sponses to Mars missions such as Pathfinder and the Mars Rovers, quantifiable as huge

increases of visitors to NASA websites, attest to the public’s perception of the space

sciences as significant contributions to their disciplines and to their society.  Consider the

public outcry when NASA announced its plan to decommission the Hubble Space Tele-

scope.  Based on the public’s reaction (along with advocacy groups and space scientists),

NASA was pressured into considering a robotic rescue mission.

       Two related branches of science serve as good examples of how the astrosociological

perspective is relevant in the twenty-first century.  The relatively new branch of astro-

biology focuses on the search for life beyond the Earth.  The discovery of alien life, whe-

ther intelligent or not, would represent a great scientific accomplishment from biological

and astronomical standpoints. Furthermore, it would also exhibit extremely important

social ramifications (Tough 1998).  Even the potential of finding evidence of past life on

Mars continues to fascinate the public.  The MER rovers are simply searching for evidence

of past surface water on Mars, and not directly for life, yet public interest remains high

due to the relationship between water and even the possibility of life.

       The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), essentially on its own until adop-

ted by astrobiology, also receives considerable support from the public.  The fact that

over five million users participate in SETI@home9 demonstrates a solid level of public

interest in astrosociological issues.  SETI research has also resulted in collaboration be-

tween space scientists and humanists (including many social scientists), which is an

important development considering neither category of scientists traditionally trusts the

other (Harrison 1997).  Such interdisciplinary collaboration is vital for a greater under-

standing of SETI and all astrosociological issues.  Accordingly, Harrison et al. (1998)

provide encouragement and strategies for social scientists to develop a larger role in

SETI research.

       Recognition of the social implications of the successful detection of a signal by a

SETI project resulted in the creation of a Declaration of Principles (Acta Astronautica

1990) to verify and react to a claim of detection in an organized manner.  Its organized

approach partially seeks to avoid monumental announcement errors due to false detec-

tions and even potential panics among populations around the world.  A successful de-

tection of ET life, especially intelligent life, would undoubtedly transform human societies

(see, for example, Vakoch and Lee 2000; Tough 1998; Harrison 1997).  Discovering that

we are not alone in the universe is one thing; but learning that we are not the most

intelligent creatures is something else.  The latter situation shatters any justification of

anthropocentrism, indeed Earthcentrism, and requires innumerable psychological and

social adaptations. Thus, sociology must place itself in the position to study such an

event based on familiarity and not simply as a blind reaction.

       Therefore, beyond the obvious biological and astronomical implications, additional

consequences exist that are of a social, and thus astrosocial, nature.  Astrosocial pheno-

mena related to the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life bring sociology even more

firmly into realm of space.  Among other concerns, there are cultural (Tough 1998) and

religious (Vakoch 2000) issues related to finding life in the cosmos.  The search itself,

even without success, possesses astrosociological relevance due to its ongoing effects on

social patterns.  The fact that so many people believe that extraterrestrial life exists, in

itself, creates social consequences.  While this example deals specifically with extrater-

restrial life, all work conducted by space scientists involves social repercussions beyond

its specific focus on the study of space phenomena.

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       The long-term possibility of the establishment of a spacefaring society can only

come about by contending with contemporary societal realities.  That is, the transform-

ation into a spacefaring society, while certainly possible, remains dependent to a signif-

icant extent upon the success of the space sciences to solve Earth-based social problems

and inspire the population to support their advancement.  Therefore, incentives exist for

social groups within the astrosocial sector to strongly publicize their contributions to their

societies. Astrosociologists should study such efforts (of astrosocial education) and their

various effects.

       The space sciences can offer unique solutions to many social problems, and that

assists their cause.  (This argument bears repeating in the current context because it

remains generally unrecognized).  As one example, the finite resources on Earth make it

attractive to consider the mining of space-based resources (Hardersen 1997; Lewis 1996).

Space represents a new economic frontier with untapped potential that inevitably draws

greater attention.  As Earth-bound natural resources decline, the shift to space resources

represents a logical new focus for economic activity.  At some point, the benefits out-

weigh the costs as science and technology continue to advance.  Space exploration serves

as a second example.  Assisted by the space sciences and aerospace engineering, the

exploration of space can provide a long-term solution to the problem of overpopulation.

It remains important for astrosociology to examine the space sciences in this social


       The solutions to numerous social problems come from the space sciences in less

obvious ways even under current conditions.  That is, individuals and societies benefit

from the space sciences even though the average citizen fails to recognize it.  For exam-

ple, the indirect effects of operating in space include the creation and now common use of

satellites, GPS systems, the development of medical technologies such as MRI and CAT-

Scan machines, and greater airline safety.10  As another example, limited experiments

aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will likely yield significant findings for wide-

ranging applications on Earth as well as in space.11  In the United States, NASA-led

research and the related technology transfer, with in collaboration with corporate and

academic organizations, contributes most strongly in this area because the current era

predates the significant expansion into space by private organizations seeking to take

advantage of space-related opportunities.

       The space sciences serve to both solve Earth-based problems and inspire the human

spirit in ways other sciences cannot offer.  The public is fascinated by robotic expeditions

to other planets and bodies in our solar system.  Even simple photographs depicting dis-

tant space phenomena produce inspired reactions.  Whether a society actually takes

advantage of the potentials offered by the space sciences is never a foregone conclusion

although the social conditions they produce arguably support such a direction. The value

of astrosociology in this regard remains based on seeking an understanding of the rela-

tionships between the space sciences and societies around the world.  As a particular

society moves toward its next socioeconomic phase, perhaps toward a spacefaring one,

the importance of comprehending these connections increases due in large measure to the

growing impact of the space sciences.


       Additional Areas of Concentration.  Many other astrosociological areas deserve

recognition as well.  The fact that the areas in the list below receive only brief treatment

here reflects nothing about their significance within the proposed subfield of astrosoci-

ology.  Only the limited room here prevents even a modest discussion.  Moreover, while

the list provided below is by no means exhaustive, it serves to (1) demonstrate the great

diversity of astrosociological issues and (2) propose additional avenues of astrosociolog-

ical inquiry.  The establishment of this new subdiscipline is warranted even if only to tie

all of these diverse areas together in an effort to produce a single coherent body of

knowledge and related literature.  The list below reflects the monumental nature of a

long-term process that is long overdue.


       • The characteristics and influences of the astrosocial sector (as briefly
         discussed in Part One of this essay) require ongoing examination.

       • The astrosocial sector in developing countries must be viewed as an
         important concern as these societies develop along side space capable

       • The role of the state in the astrosocial sector represents a central
         area of concentration; including the relationship between the state’s
         control of the national program (e.g., NASA in the U.S.) and other private
         and public organizations that contribute to it.

       • The relationship between the state and private enterprise continues
         to change, including the effects of the privatization of space.

       • Impact of other institutions (e.g., religion, politics, economy) on astro-
         social phenomena and the astrosocial sector represents a high priority.

       • Space policy and space law require study, as societies make deliberate
         decisions based on endogenous and exogenous social forces; this focus
         includes efforts at the domestic as well as international levels.

       • Astrosocial education is defined as imparting knowledge regarding
         human behavior associated with space; in all types of societies, it
         occurs, for example, in the forms of advocacy and activism.

       • The military has strong historical ties to space programs of space capable
         nations; military objectives may align with space exploration objectives,
         may oppose them, or may include contradictory objectives.

       • Cooperation in space and conflict in space each take place among
         societies forming complex and often contradictory social patterns; the
         United Nations advocates the use of space for peaceful purposes on a
         global scale, and this represents an ongoing consideration.

       • Practical astrosociology involves the astrosociologist interacting directly
         with astrosocial phenomena in some manner (e.g., designing social
         environments in space, participating in crew selections, and conducting
         research in conjunction with social groups in the astrosocial sector);
         public astrosociology is a related and important consideration.

       • The characteristics of astrosocial phenomena in the future require
         prediction and planning as they change from contemporary forms to new
         ones (e.g., space communities, bases, tourism, commercialization); the
         space sciences alone account for much of the capacity to change.

       • The process of astrosocial change, both social and cultural, requires
         ongoing attention as it affects societies in complex ways over time.

       • “Interplanetary” relations between Earth-based societies and space-
         based societies populated by humans and/or ETIs will develop into an
         important consideration in the future at some point even though it may
         seem a farfetched concern in contemporary societies.


While several aspects of these areas of concentration were included in various ways in

the preceding discussions, each deserves strong attention in its own right.  Furthermore,

the large quantity of the astrosociological topics presented throughout this essay, and the

diversity of their foci, both contribute persuasively toward the demonstration of astrosoci-

ology as a highly relevant subdiscipline.


Conclusions:  Substantiating the Relevance of a New Subfield

       In closing, it seems appropriate to consider the grand picture depicting astrosocial

phenomena as long-term influences on human societies in the form of two general points.

First, astrosocial phenomena existed within social groups from the time humankind first

incorporated them in various ways into their social and cultural patterns.  Second, the

continuing development of the space age promises the potential to produce changing

social and cultural patterns that emphasize astrosocial phenomena as never before wit-

nessed by humanity.

       With a focus on the second point, Part Two of this essay concludes with an argu-

ment implied throughout: astrosociology will become progressively more relevant as we

move further into the twenty-first century.  Bringing sociology into the study of astrosocial

phenomena therefore becomes critical.  Unless humanity is knocked back to the Stone Age

by some massively destructive event, or social problems become overwhelmingly disrup-

tive, it is apparent that the relevance of astrosocial phenomena will increase in the

future.  Human civilizations will incorporate, benefit, and become more dependent on the

space sciences and space exploration technologies.  Discovery of extraterrestrial life

would add additional influences to already changing social patterns.  With or without such

a discovery, human groups are likely destined to expand outward, as they have in the

past.  In the process, all members of a given society, including sociologists, become more

likely to further develop their sociological imaginations in terms of understanding their

relationships to astrosocial phenomena.

       Thus, the relevance of astrosociology increases in human societies because of at

least three reasons extrapolated from the present:  (1) pure scientific understanding con-

tinues to drive human beings, (2) applied science and technological change each improves

living conditions, and (3) exploration continues to inspire and thereby lure individuals and

their social groups into the unknown.  These three interactive forces increasingly make

astrosociology more relevant to societies because space represents the last great frontier,

arguably at least as important in the grand scheme of things as the vast unexplored

oceans of Earth.  It is important to study the process of the growing intrusiveness and

influence of astrosocial phenomena on human societies simply because it exists.

       Sociology must adapt and renew itself in order to keep pace with this constant

change.  Since the establishment of the space age, sociology most characteristically

ignored social patterns related to space.  With its focus precisely on astrosocial pheno-

mena, astrosociology represents an obvious opportunity for the discipline to correct its

longstanding error.  The relevance of astrosociology is rooted in both the significance of

astrosocial phenomena and the discipline’s need to remedy its attention deficit.  Sociolo-

gists pursuing this new subfield will pioneer new work in a wide-open, long-neglected

dimension of social life.  As a result, heretofore untapped groundbreaking and exciting

results will emerge simply due to the foray into unexplored areas of sociological inquiry.

       In the end, the attempt to establish a new subdiscipline is not an easy task, and

one not guaranteed to succeed.  The sociological community must decide whether or not

the establishment of astrosociology represents a good development for the discipline.

The underlying argument presented in this essay is that sociology is better off by uniting

the disparate astrosociological issues under a single subfield rather than staying on a

course in which they remain lost and separated with no hope of developing a single liter-

ature.  Development of a unified literature is only possible with the development of a

community of devoted astrosociologists.

       The acceptance or rejection of this argument is a decision that demands an objective

consideration of all the facts involved. While the relevance of astrosociology arguably

received adequate substantiation in the course of this essay, the failure of the discipline

to focus on astrosocial phenomena remains a reality.  The discipline faces the irony of,

once presented with the prospect of establishing astrosociology, continuing to favor its

ignorance of astrosociological issues even while astrosocial phenomena become ever more

influential over time.  In such circumstances, a particular society becomes less well under-

stood overall.  A complete break from the past is necessary to change this paradox.

       Such drastic change within the sociological subculture requires the consideration of

several important questions. Is sociology better off with the establishment of astrosoci-

ology?  Is astrosociology truly more relevant in the twenty-first century than it was in the

twentieth century, or earlier?  Conversely, is the status quo more desirable?  As sociolo-

gists seek to answer such questions, the debate will undoubtedly intensify; but such a

development is ultimately good for the discipline because it forces a needed reassess-

ment of its own relevance as the future unfolds.


01.  Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Rowley and Thomas E. Gangale of (cited below) deserve special recog-
      nition for their feedback and support during the preparation of Part Two of this essay.

02.  This is the second part of the two-part Inaugural EssayPart Two was presented on October 16, 2004 as
      part of a special dedicated session, entitled Astrosociology:  The Establishment of a New Subfield, at the
      California Sociological Association (CSA) conference in Riverside, CA .

03.  Dr. Andrew A. Beveridge, Professor of Sociology at Queens College/CUNY deserves credit for recounting, in
      an email message, a historical account of the failed attempt to establish exo-sociology as a new section
      within the ASA.

04.  Information about Virgin Galactic is available at their website (cited below).  See the website for Scaled
      Composites as well (cited below), as it is the winner of the Ansari X Prize and contractor to build the Virgin
      space tourism fleet.

05.  Dr. Albert A. Harrison provided valuable feedback in response to Part One of this essay.  One of his sugges-
      tions is to directly confront the topics of UFOs and the pseudosciences, and to make an unambiguous dis-
      tinction between them and the proposed subfield of astrosociology.  His encouragement and support are
      greatly appreciated.

06.  Thomas E. Gangle deserves the credit for the basic idea behind this great analogy.

07.  Information about spinoffs is available at NASA’s Spinoff Online website (cited below).

08.  Dr. William Kornblum, Professor of Sociology at Queens College/CUNY related in an insightful observation as
      part of his reaction to Part One of this essay.  Any particular society, indeed our entire species, would have
      to avoid destroying itself if it ever expected to survive long enough to establish a spacefaring society.

09.  The SETI@Home website (cited below) provides user statistics, a mission statement, and a wealth of use-
      ful information related to the project.

10.  See note # 07.

11.  Information regarding the International Space Station (ISS) can be found at NASA’s dedicated website,
      cited below.

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References / Selected Bibliography*

* Note:  When possible and where appropriate, the specialty areas/fields of each author are included inside             brackets following their names. Notice the dearth of contributions by sociologists.


Acta Astronautica (1990).  “Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”  Acta Astronautica, 21(2):  153-154.

Bainbridge, William Sims [sociology] (1991).  Goals in Space: American Values and the Future of Technology.  Albany, NY:  State University of New York Press.

Bierstedt, Robert (1970).  The Social Order (Third Edition).  New York:  McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Bluth, B.J. [sociology] (1983).  “Sociology and Space Development.”  In T. Stephen Cheston (Principal Investigator), Space Social Science.  Retrieved on April 16, 2004. (

Burrows, William E. [journalism] (1998).  This New Ocean:  The Story of the First Space Age. New York: Random House, Inc.

Bush, George W. (2004).  A Renewed Spirit of Discovery.  Speech presented to NASA Headquarters on January 13, 2004.  Retrieved on 06/12/2004. (

Carlson, Darren K., Government and Public Affairs Editor (Gallup Organization) (2004). Space:  To Infinity and Beyond on a Budget.  Retrieved on 08/23/04. ( – access to full article requires account).

Hardersen, Paul S. [space activism] (1997).  The Case for Space:  Who Benefits from Exploration of the Last Frontier?  Shrewsbury, MA:  ATL Press, Inc.

Harrison, Albert A. [psychology/social psychology] (2001).  Spacefaring: The Human Dimension.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press.

Harrison, Albert A. [psychology/social psychology] (1997).  After Contact:  The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life.  New York:  Perseus Publishing.

Harrison, Albert A., John Billingham, Steven J. Dick, Ben Finney, Michael A.G. Michaud, Donald E. Tarter, Allen Tough, and Douglas Vakoch (June 1998).  Increasing the Role of Social Science in SETI.  Paper prepared for the SETI Committee of the International Academy of Astronautics.

Hudgins, Edward L. (Ed.) [economics] (2002).  Space:  The Free-Market Frontier. Washington, DC:  The Cato Institute.

Johnson-Freese, Joan [international security studies] and Roger Handberg [political science] (1997).  Space, The Dormant Frontier:  Changing the Paradigm for the 21st Century.  Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Lambright, W. Henry (Ed.) [political science & public administration] (2003).  Space Policy in the 21st Century.  Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Landon, Brooks [English] (2002).  Science Fiction After 1900:  From the Steam Man to the Stars.  New York:  Routledge.

Lewis, John S. [planetary sciences] (1996).  Mining the Sky:  Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets.  NY:  Basic Books.

Klerkx, Greg [journalism/formally with SETI Institute] (2004).  Lost in Space:  The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age.  NY:  Random House, Inc.

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels (C.J. Arthur, Ed.) (1976).  The German Ideology: Part One (5th Printing).  New York:  International Publishers.

McCurdy, Howard E. [public affairs] (1993).  Inside NASA:  High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program.  Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press.

McCurdy, Howard E. [public affairs] (1997).  Space and the American Imagination. Washington, DC:  The Smithsonian Institution.

McDougall, Walter A. [international relations] (1985).  …The Heavens and the Earth:  A Political History of the Space Age.  Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Merton, Robert K. (1996).  On Social Structure and Science.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press.

Mills, C. Wright (1959).  The Sociological Imagination. New York:  Oxford University Press.

Ogburn, William F. (1942).  "Inventions, Populations, and History."  In American Council of Learned Studies, Studies in the History of Culture.  Freeport, NY:  Books for Libraries Press.

Ogburn, William F. (1957).  "Cultural Lag as Theory."  Sociology and Social Research, 41: 167-174.

Pass, Jim (2004).  Inaugural Essay:  The Definition and Relevance of Astrosociology in the Twenty-First Century (Part One:  Definition, Theory and Scope).  (Originally posted on 01/04/2004 at

Rudoff, Alvin [sociology] (1996).  "Societies in Space."  American University Studies, Series XI, Anthropology and Sociology, Vol. 69.  New York:  Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Sadeh, Eligar (Ed.) [space studies] (2002).  Space Politics and Policy:  An Evolutionary Perspective.  Dordrecht, The Netherlands:  Klumer Academic Publishers.

Sagan, Carl [astronomy] (1994).  Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York:  The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group.

Tompkins, Phillip K. [organizational communication] (2005).  Apollo, Challenger, Columbia -- The Decline of the Space Program:  A Study in Organizational Communication.  Los Angeles:  Roxbury Publishing Company.

Tough, Allen (1998).  "Positive Consequences of SETI Before Detection."  Acta Astronautica, 42(10-12):  745-748.

Vakoch, Douglas A. [SETI research/clinical psychology] (2000).  “Roman Catholic Views of Extraterrestrial Intelligence:  Anticipating the Future by Examining the Past.”  Pages 165-174 in Allen Tough, When SETI Succeeds:  The Impact of High-Information Contact. Bellevue, WA:  The Foundation for the Future.

Vakoch, Douglas A. [SETI research/clinical psychology] and Y.-S. Lee [psychology] (2000). "Reactions to Receipt of a Message from Extraterrestrial Intelligence:  A Cross-Cultural Empirical Study."  Acta Astronautica, 46(10-12):  737-744.

Vaughn, Diane [sociology] (1996).  The Challenger Launch Decision:  Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press.

Zimmerman, Robert [journalism/history] (2003).  Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel.  Washington, DC:  Joseph Henry Press.


Selected Websites Home Page
       Website URL:

(The) Gallup Organization.
       Website URL:

NASA Home Page.
       Website URL:

NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).
       Website URL:

NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Page.
       Website URL:

NASA International Space Station Page.
       Website URL:

NASA Project Prometheus Page.
       Website URL:

NASA Spinoff Online – “Commercialized NASA Technology.”
       Website URL:

(The) National Space Society (NSS).
       Website URL: Home Page.
       Website URL:

(The) Planetary Society.
       Website URL:

Scaled Composites.
       Website URL:

SETI@Home Home Page.
       Website URL:

(The) SETI Institute.
       Website URL: Home Page.
       Website URL:

Virgin Galactic.
       Website URL:

(The) X Prize Foundation.
       Website URL:

   © 2004 Jim Pass / All Rights Reserved

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separation bar


Photograph of Jim Pass

Jim Pass, Ph.D.

(founder of Astrosociology &


Making a presentation at CONTACT 2005 Conference at NASA Ames Research Center...

So, who am I?  And what qualifications do I have to initiate this type of project?  Well, I am just a humble sociologist who believes that the development of astrosociology is overdue and will become increasingly essential as humanity moves into outer space during the twenty-first century.

My background is summarized below.

Brief Employment History:

July 2003 - present (full time since May 2006);
Owner, operator of
(dedicated to the development of the field of astrosociology)

January 1, 2006 - present;
Member of Editorial Board for journal Astropolitics
(URL:. .

November 2005 - present;
Distinguished Senior Consultant, Astrosociology, for OPS-Alaska

Fall 1992 - May 2006;
Instructor, Long Beach City College, Social Science Division.


1991     Ph.D.  in sociology at the University of Southern California
(URL of Sociology Department:

1984     M.A.   in sociology at the University of Southern California

1984     M.S.   in criminal justice at California State University,
                     Long Beach (CSULB).

                     (URL of Criminal Justice Department:

1979     B.S.    in criminal justice and sociology at California State
                      University, Long Beach (CSULB)
                      (URL of Sociology Department:  

(Last updated on 09/30/2006)


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   © 2003-2008 Jim Pass & / All Rights Reserved