Erika Nesvold is an astrophysicist who has worked as a researcher at NASA Goddard and the Carnegie Institution for Science. She is a developer for Universe Sandbox, a physics-based space simulator, and cofounder of the non-profit organization the JustSpace Alliance. She is the creator and host of the podcast series Making New Worlds.
Books by Erika Nesvold
Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space
by Erika Nesvold
“I was talking to people in the private space industry, and I got concerned they weren’t thinking about any of these [ethical] questions, because they were so focused on the technological questions of how to build a rocket, or the economic question of, ‘Can we talk investors into giving us money to do this?’ Whenever I asked questions about other issues, like labor rights, for example, and how to protect the rights of workers who are out doing the space mining, they would just say, ‘Oh, we’ll worry about that later.’
That didn’t sound like a good idea to me, but I also recognized that with a math and physics degree, what do I know about this stuff? So I made the podcast to ask experts what they thought, including people who had never thought about their work in the context of space. That was a really great experience.
That podcast, called Making New Worlds, I eventually turned it into this book. I did more research, more interviews. It looks at all these questions about say, we have a hypothetical space settlement, how do we protect the reproductive rights of people? How do we take care of the environment, share resources with each other? How do we avoid having a war in space? It was a lot of fun to write and involved reading a lot of science fiction, which was fun for me too.
One of the most interesting parts of these conversations I’ve been having is that there are so many parallels. It taught me about things that are happening on Earth that are human rights issues today that I didn’t know about.
So, for example, I talked to someone from the International Labor Rights Forum and I asked her, ‘What kind of labor rights problems do you think you will have if you put a bunch of space miners on a rocket and take them off into space? What could go wrong?’
She said she hadn’t ever thought about this before but it’s kind of horrifying. She works on the issue of fishermen in Thailand: these Thai fishing boat captains will hire migrant fishermen, take their passports away, put them on a boat, and take them out to sea for two years and not bring them back. The poor workers don’t have any control over the boats, they are physically abused on the boats. Some of them get killed and thrown overboard and you never see them again. There’s no one there to supervise to enforce labor rights protection.
And she said, ‘this could happen in space with rockets, right?’ You put the workers on the rockets and you take them away. They are at the mercy of whoever is running the rockets to take them back to Earth, to protect them from labor rights abuses.”
Best Sci Fi on Space Settlement, Five Books interview with Erika Nesvold, March 3 2023
Interviews with Erika Nesvold
The Best Sci Fi Books on Space Settlement, recommended by Erika Nesvold
We look to the stars and imagine a new home for humanity, an escape from the troubles that plague us here on Earth, but as astrophysicist Erika Nesvold points out, many of our problems will join us on our voyage. Here, she selects five science fiction books that illuminate the challenges and possible conflicts we’ll face if we head for this new frontier.