With scientifically, technologically and imaginatively reaching into Outer Space, boundaries are crossed, cultures change and new paradigms emerge through "outward encounters" with the perceived "other" and "inward encounters" with new perspectives on, and roles for, ourselves and our environment.
The relationship between Outer Space and social life on Earth has been extensively shaped by technoscientific efforts to transcend the immediate experience of Earth-bound humans, with the seemingly endless possibility of expansion into the near cosmos. Outer Space represents a potent and contested meeting point of scientific fact production, speculation, politics, and futurity. After a period in which nation states have dominated this arena, we are now entering into a new era of more dispersed efforts to access, explore and utilise Space-Earth ecology, both in entrepreneurial as well as in cultural form. Through these activities new encounters with the "other" are emerging, be it by humans landing on Mars, robots mining asteroids for resources, or extending Internet connectivity through Near-Earth Space. These activities are ethically, socially and politically contested with their promises to transform our perception of Outer Space and its use. Of particular interest is to form STS perspectives on "outward encounters" (through SETI, astrobiology, and spaceflight) and "inward encounters", looking back to Earth from near space (through remote sensing). Our panel aims to construct an STS understanding of our extended environment, both physical and social, in the near cosmos. It invites papers to explore how space - both atmospheric space, near earth space, and outer space are figured in technoscientific projects and visions for the future of life here and elsewhere. Papers could focus on utilisation of the stratosphere, convergent technologies in space, (bio-, nano-, info); transformative business models and new organisational behaviour; futurism, imaginaries and cultural narratives.