Astrosociology was born as a subfield of sociology in 2004, when a sociologist Jim Pass purchased the domain astrosociology.com and wrote a two-part inaugural essay on the topic. He suggested that this new field should focus on astrosocial phenomena – social, cultural and behavioral patterns related to outer space.
It was not well received by the mainstream sociologists, with the overarching argument that adding “astro” in front of the name does not add any substantial changes in topics to be studied. Then Pass declared astrosociology to be a self-standing multidisciplinary field that studies everything that relates to human-space interaction on micro, meso, and macro levels.
Pass envisioned astrosociology as a place for everything: from space law and science fiction to sociology and anthropology. He created the Astrosociology Research Institute (ARI) as the forefront for cooperation between social scientists, lawyers, and artists to bring human dimension into space exploration and research. ARI focuses on educational outreach and publishes the Journal of Astrosociology, which blends the line between scientific and literary publication. Still, behind the labels and terminology, there is a lack of theory needed for a self-standing field of social science.
It is easy to dismiss ARI as a collective of eccentric academics who work on the very margins of social science. The original Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation dedicated to the development of astrosociology TM does not sound as a title of a respective research organization. But if you look behind the flashy pop-up ad style website and over-the-top proclamations, there is an important message out there. In a nutshell, Pass argues that social sciences (with an exception of psychology) have been neglected in the mainstream space science and STEM community, and that it needs to change.
None of this is new. In the early 1980s, NASA published an educational guide that shows how different fields of social science can benefit space exploration. But apart from psychologists and historians, other social scientists have mostly taken the back seats in space debates.
It is a pity, because sociological knowledge is crucial to understand how space innovations, space imagery, and space exploration create new social divisions and global elites, and recreate imperialism. We need to address inequality in the space industry. We need public sociology to explore and counter predominant space colonization narrative that alienates everyone who is not a cis- white rich male. We need sociological social psychology to understand status and power dynamics during space flight and in future Mars settlements.
And how we name these research questions – astrosociology, sociology of outer space, sociology of space exploration – is not that important.