Astrobiology (general)

Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 28, 2023
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Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation
Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation

The NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation represents an opportunity for high-level scholarship to understand the interface between human society and the scientific exploration of the cosmos. In the spirit of Barry Blumberg, whose life and work spanned multiple disciplines, the Blumberg Program is interested in the concept of exploration broadly defined to include any aspect of space exploration within the parameters of NASA’s mission to “reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.” The program is most interested in proposals that consider the philosophical, humanistic, legal, ethical, and policy dimensions of exploration.

Possibilities for research subjects are many. The following are meant to inspire, not to limit creativity: legal issues related to governance of planets and space; the ethical implications of cross-contamination; scientific and philosophical definitions of life; conceptions of the origins of life in theistic and non-theistic religions; comparison of the discussion of these issues in multiple nations and cultures. The Chair may also consider life’s collective future—for humans and other forms of life, on Earth and beyond, examining the impacts on life and future evolutionary trajectories that may result from both natural events and human-directed activities.

Within the parameters of NASA’s mission, a chair might also seek to investigate how innovative quests for fundamental understanding may lead to major developments for the betterment of society. Barry Blumberg, for whom the Chair is named, conducted groundbreaking research addressing a simple but fundamental question: Why do some people get sick while others, exposed to the same environment, remain healthy? That this work unexpectedly led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus, the development of a vaccine, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine illustrates the potential for unconventional thinking about fundamental questions to yield great rewards. Using methodologies from the history and sociology of science, the philosophy of science, legal, political, and cultural history, and other disciplines, a Chair might study and tell the story of how a basic research initiative led to completely unexpected discoveries and applications.

Additionally, the concept of “high risk, high reward research” continues to find traction among a number of US Government agencies and is at the heart of international competition in science. Focusing on projects within the parameters of NASA’s mission, the Chair could also study a “high risk, high reward” initiative from a historical, legal, philosophical, or ethical perspective or one that draws on several disciplinary modes of analysis.

The Chair is in residence at the Kluge Center, in the Library of Congress. The Library is at the heart of serious conversation among scholars and policymakers and the Kluge Center’s distinctive mission is to bridge the gap between scholarship and the policymaking community. As such, the Blumberg Chair holds a highly visible, public role. The Library is particularly interested in scholars who are able and willing to speak beyond their disciplinary home in a way that is accessible and compelling to a broad audience.

The Chair is open to established scholars and leading thinkers in the fields of philosophy, history, religion, astrobiology, astronomy, planetary science, the history of science, paleontology, Earth and atmospheric sciences, geological sciences, ethics, literature, media studies, or other related fields. Check out the current Chairs’ podcast “Space on the Page.”

Applications are due October 15, 2023. Selections will be made in spring of 2024 for an appointment beginning October 1, 2024. Click here for more information.


SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.