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Preparing For Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex, or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth
Astrobiology has revealed new discoveries about our world and the solar system. Living organisms thrive in harsher environments on Earth than we ever previously imagined. Microbial biodiversity and extremophile life are now known to be ubiquitous and abundant. Beyond Earth, science has identified more than 1,400 exoplanets. That life thrives in multifarious conditions, coupled with these potentially habitable exoplanets and the detection of life-giving elements on numerous moons on asteroids, means we must face the possibility that simple or complex organisms may be discovered beyond Earth. How might we prepare for such a discovery? Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Steven J. Dick convenes scientists, historians, philosophers and theologians from around the world for a two-day symposium at the Library of Congress to explore how we prepare to face new knowledge that may challenge our very conceptions of life and our place in the universe.

Date/Time: September 18 - 19, 2014 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
     Free and open to the public
Location: The John W. Kluge Center, Room 119, Thomas Jefferson Building. 
     View directions to the Library of Congress

Steven J. DickHost

Dr. Steven J. Dick, Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at The John W. Kluge Center; astronomer, historian, and former chief historian at NASA.
More about Steven J. Dick


  • Linda Billings - Consultant to NASA’s Astrobiology and Near-Earth Object Programs, Planetary Science Division, NASA HQ
  • Eric J. Chaisson - Astrophysicist, Harvard University
  • Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ - Astronomer and meteoriticist at the Vatican Observatory
  • Iris Fry - Professor, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University (retired)
  • Mark Lupisella - Leader, NASA Goddard Advanced Exploration Systems support for Human Exploration
  • Jane Maienschein - Regents’ Professor, President’s Professor, and Parents Association Professor at Arizona State University
  • Lori Marino - Neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence
  • Carlos Mariscal - Post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Comparative Genomics & Evolutionary Bioinformatics in Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Margaret Race - Senior Scientist at SETI Institute in Mountain View, California
  • Dirk Schulze-Makuch - Professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University
  • Seth Shostak - Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California
  • John W. Traphagan - Anthropologist and Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at University of Texas at Austin
  • Douglas Vakoch - Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute
  • Clément Vidal - Philosopher, co-director of the 'Evo Devo Universe'

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The NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology is a distinguished senior scholar at the John W. Kluge Center who conducts research at the intersection of the science of astrobiology and its humanistic implications. Learn more about this senior chair position, get application forms

Applications now being accepted through December 1.

Astrobiology addresses three fundamental questions: "How did life begin and evolve?" "Is there life beyond Earth?" and "What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?"
Learn more about astrobiology

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Day 1 – September 18, 2014

9:00 – 9:15

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

Introductory Remarks
Mary Voytek, Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA

9:15 – 9:30

Hon. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology

9:30 – 10:00

Setting the Stage
“Astrobiology and Society: An Overview of the Symposium” – Steven J. Dick, NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology
“Current Approaches to Finding Life Beyond Earth, and What Happen If We Do” – Seth Shostak, SETI Institute

10:00 – 10:15


10:15 – 12:15

Approaches: How Do We Frame the Problem of Discovery?
Moderator / Chair, Seth Shostak

“History, Discovery, Analogy” – Steven J. Dick, Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology
“Silent Impact: The Worldview Significance of Discovering Non-Communicative Extraterrestrials” – Clément Vidal, Free University of Brussels
“The Philosophy of Astrobiology” – Iris Fry, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Discussion + Q&A

12:15 - 1:45


1:45 – 4:45

Transcending Anthropocentrism: How Do We Move Beyond Our Own Preconceptions of What Life Is?
Moderator / Chair, Carol Cleland, University of Colorado

“The Landscape of Life” – Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Washington State University and Technical University Berlin
“The Landscape of Intelligence” – Lori Marino, The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy
“Universal Biology: Circumventing the N=1 Problem about Life” – Carlos Mariscal, Duke University


“Equating Culture, Civilization, and Moral Development in Imagining ETI: Anthropocentric Assumptions?” – John Traphagan, University of Texas at Austin
“Communicating with the Other” – Douglas Vakoch, SETI Institute

Discussion + Q&A

Day 2 – September 19, 2014

9:00 – 9:10

Setting the Stage

Astrobiology and Society” - Steven J. Dick, NASA/Library of Congress Chair

9:10 – 12:10

Philosophical Impact: How Do We Comprehend The Philosophical and Theological Challenges Raised by Discovery?
Moderator / Chair, Constance Bertka

“Potential Roles for Life and Intelligence in the Evolution of the Cosmos” – Mark Lupisella, NASA
“The Moral Status of Non-Human Organisms” – Carol Cleland (University of Colorado Boulder) and Elspeth Wilson (University of Pennsylvania)
“What is it Like to be an Extraterrestrial?” - Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut


“Astrobiology and Theology,” - Robin Lovin, Center for Theological Inquiry, Princeton, N.J.
“Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?” – Guy Consolmagno, SJ Vatican Observatory

Discussion + Q&A

12:10 - 1:45


1:45 – 4:05

Practical Impact: How Should Society Cope with Discovery?
Moderator / Chair, Jennifer Wiseman

“Is there Anything New about Astrobiology and Society?” - Jane Maienschein, Arizona State University
“Searching for Extraterrestrial Life: Coping with Discovery by Considering Potential Risks” - Margaret Race, SETI Institute
“An Astrobiological App for a Technological Society” – Eric Chaisson, Harvard University


“The Allure of Alien Life: From Microbes to Intelligence” – Linda Billings, NASA

Discussion + Q&A

4:05 - 4:15

Steven J. Dick, NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology

Twitter icon   See insights and analysis from the panelists on Twitter: #PrepareToDiscover


A full webcast of this event is coming soon.

Twitter icon   See insights and analysis from the panelists on Twitter: #PrepareToDiscover

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