August 15, 2014 Astrobiology Symposium "Preparing for Discovery," Sept. 18-19

Explores Impact of Finding Life Beyond Earth

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How might humanity prepare for the possibility of discovering microbial or complex life beyond Earth? Scientists, historians, philosophers and theologians from around the world will convene at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center for two days in September to address this question.

“Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 18 and Friday, Sept. 19 in room 119 of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The room will open at 8:30 a.m. for coffee. The symposium is free and open to the public.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute will simulcast the symposium. To access the webcast, visit Choose the option to “enter as a guest,” type your name in the field, and click “enter room.”

Steven J. Dick, the second Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Kluge Center, will serve as host and lead the symposium discussion.

“The science of astrobiology has revealed new discoveries about the conditions and possibilities for life, both extremophile life on Earth and potentially habitable exoplanets beyond Earth,” says Dick. “The possibility that simple or complex organisms may be discovered elsewhere compels us to ask how we might prepare to face such new knowledge.”

Four panels will address the historical, philosophical, theological and societal implications of astrobiology, including the scientific study of life’s origins and future.

One panel will investigate how to frame the question of the impact of discovering life: what approaches can and should be used? A second will address the challenge of moving beyond current conceptions of what constitutes life, intelligence and civilization—conceptions which are based on anthropocentric models. A third panel will specifically address the philosophical and theological implications of a universe potentially teeming with life. The final panel will assess the practical impact that astrobiology research has on society, and assess the risks associated with discovery.

Participants include:

  • Constance M. Bertka, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, D.C.
  • Linda Billings, consultant to NASA’s Astrobiology and Near-Earth Object Programs, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters;
  • Eric J. Chaisson, astrophysicist, Harvard University;
  • Carol Cleland, professor of philosophy, University of Colorado;
  • Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, astronomer and meteoriticist, the Vatican Observatory;
  • Iris Fry, professor, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University (retired);
  • Robin W. Lovin, director of research, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, New Jersey;
  • Mark Lupisella, leader, NASA Goddard Advanced Exploration Systems Support for Human Exploration;
  • Jane Maienschein, Regents’ Professor, President’s Professor and Parents Association Professor, Arizona State University;
  • Lori Marino, neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence;
  • Carlos Mariscal, post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Comparative Genomics and Evolutionary Bioinformatics in Halifax, Nova Scotia;
  • Margaret Race, senior scientist at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in MountainView, California;
  • Susan Schneider, associate professor, Philosophy Department, University of Connecticut;
  • Dirk Schulze-Makuch, professor in the School of the Environment, Washington State University;
  • Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute;
  • John W. Traphagan, anthropologist and professor in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin;
  • Douglas Vakoch, director of Interstellar Message Composition, SETI Institute;
  • Clément Vidal, philosopher, co-director of the Evo Devo Universe;
  • Elspeth Wilson, doctoral candidate in political science, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist for Hubble Space Telescope, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

For further information on the panels and the schedule, please visit this site.

Dick, who organized the symposium, is a well-known astronomer, author and historian of science. He has been in residence at the Kluge Center since November 2013. Prior to his appointment at the Library, Dick was the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in aerospace history at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and served as the chief historian for NASA.

The astrobiology chair is a distinguished senior research position housed within the John W. Kluge Center. Using the collections and services at the Library, the chair holder conducts research at the intersection between the science of astrobiology and its humanistic aspects, particularly its societal implications. The chair honors the late Baruch Blumberg, a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, former member of the Library’s Scholars Council and the founding director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, who actively promoted research and development across disciplines. For more information visit this site.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit

The NASA Astrobiology Program supports research into the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), an element of that program, is a partnership among NASA, 14 U.S. teams, and 10 international consortia. NAI’s goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research, train a new generation of astrobiology researchers, and share the excitement of astrobiology with learners of all ages.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


PR 14-146
ISSN 0731-3527