Panel on Social Sciences and Humanities (PSSH)

Isabelle Sourbès-Verger (France), 2021 – 2024  

Terms of Reference

The COSPAR Panel on Social Sciences and Humanities (PSSH) was created in 2021 in response to a recommendation from the COSPAR Strategic Action Plan 2019-2023 and the recognition that the merger of natural and social sciences organizations to form the International Science Council (ISC) should provide opportunities for COSPAR to engage with the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) community.

Space assets deliver daily services to the average citizen through various application domains: urban and land planning, risk management, disaster prevention and mitigation, security, etc. These are very practical areas that citizens connect to emotionally.  Hence, there is a necessity to ensure a strong contribution from COSPAR that can only be achieved through this dialogue with SSH colleagues and corresponding international unions. This dialogue should also extend to consideration of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to the critical need of being able to explain to the public and to decision makers the relevance and importance of space research to society. Particular consideration should be given to the challenges associated with the identification, assessment and prediction of the impact of anthropogenic activity and natural phenomena on the Earth system, and the role of space observations and research, as highlighted by the COSPAR Roadmap on Integrated Earth System Science.  It is, therefore, vital to ensure that COSPAR, as one key actor in that sector, increases its interactions with the general public, as well as with relevant decision-makers who tend to respond to the perceived requirements and needs of citizens.

The main objective is to give a role to COSPAR, or recreate one, that is commensurate with the current challenges of space activities, in term of their interaction with society at large. This implies that COSPAR and its role and action mode gain increased visibility outside the regular space science community. Indeed, COSPAR has multiple competencies but these are poorly known, in particular within the community of social scientists and humanity scholars and with policy experts and political decision-makers.  There is, therefore, a need to present the importance of COSPAR and its assets through a reminder of its history, its composition (different commissions and panels), and its actions. The relative absence of COSPAR within the circles of decision-makers, media, society, and other relevant stakeholders must be explored and better understood.

In short, there is a need to use the unchallenged scientific competence of COSPAR to build awareness of the current and future challenges of space activities. This can be addressed in two different ways:

  • Analyze the impacts of space exploration and use of space assets on the development and running of society, in a context where there is growing interdependence of human societies on Earth.
  • Offer space activities as one subject of interest and research to SSH practitioners, with the aim of understanding better the perception of space activities by society and of highlighting the corresponding stakes created by these activities.

In addition to contributing to the scientific sessions and business meetings during COSPAR Scientific Assemblies, the Panel will aim to organize and support various events that could include dedicated workshops and roundtable discussions on selected topics of relevance to the Panel’s remit, as well as to exchange regularly with interested COSPAR Associates and other stakeholders through COSPAR journals, the book series, the electronic newsletter COSPAR News, or any other means.  The PSSH expects to help open new areas of international cooperation involving a variety of scientists of diverse disciplines from natural and social sciences. For SSH communities PSSH will offer a larger audience and visibility for their work and provide opportunities for novel research in a highly dynamic field and the benefit of recognition of their key role in promoting interdisciplinary research and collaboration.