- Status Report
- November 22, 2023
New Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology
Please join us in welcoming science historian Steven J. Dick as he begins his term today as the second Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology in the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. He will be in residence for one year.
A well-known astronomer and author, Dick was the chair in aerospace history at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and served as the chief historian for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 2003 to 2009.
Dick will examine the historical background of astrobiology, and will work both individually and with other scholars to analyze humanistic issues surrounding the discovery of life in the universe and optimal approaches to studying the impact of such a discovery. His research will include studies in the Library’s extensive Manuscript Division collections of notable scientists, including the recently processed papers of Carl Sagan.
“This study is focused on the societal impact of the discovery of life in the universe,” Dick said. “It is a two-tiered research strategy: to examine in detail to what extent history may be useful to the problem, and to determine systematically the critical issues and optimal approaches to illuminating the problem.”
Dick’s publications include “Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus” (2013), “Many Worlds” (2000), “The Biological Universe: The Twentieth Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science” (1999) and “The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology,” co-authored with James E. Strick (2005).
The astrobiology chair at the Kluge Center is the result of collaboration between the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Library of Congress and is named for Baruch “Barry” Blumberg, the late Kluge Center Scholars Council member, Nobel Laureate and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
Funded by NASA, and executed by the Kluge Center in consultation with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the chair-holder conducts research at the intersection of the science of astrobiology and its humanistic and societal implications. One senior researcher is appointed annually to be in residence at The John W. Kluge Center, to make use of the Library of Congress collections in exploration of these questions, and convene related programs that focus on astrobiology’s role in culture and society.