One of the big questions regarding the discovery of extraterrestrial life, even if it is an itty-bitty microbe, is what impact it would have on society. Some have suggested that people will freak out and religions will crumble. Others think the news will be met with a resounding, “meh.” To examine the effects of the discovery of extraterrestrial life, whether it be a microbe, or a radio transmission from an advanced civilization, NASA has turned to one of their former chief historians, Steven Dick. Dick is the current Baruch S. Blumberg NASA-Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. He is an astronomer, author, and from 2003 to 2009 served as NASA’s chief historian. Dick began his current position in late 2013, and was tasked with “examining historical impacts of astrobiology.” This includes, “working both individually and with other scholars to determine systematically the critical issues and optimal approaches to studying the societal impact of the discovery of microbial or intelligent extraterrestrial life.” The later has been of particular interest to Dick. He has written several books on the topic. He hosted a recent Symposium on these issue as well. It was held in September at the Library of Congress, and was free and open to the public. An interview with Dick was recently posted on the website of Astrobiology Magazine. He told them, “It’s very farsighted for NASA to fund a position like this. They have all their programs in astrobiology, they fund the scientists, but here they fund somebody to think about what the implications might be. It’s a good idea to do this, to foresee what might happen before it occurs.” So what does Dick think might happen? More via Openminds.tv.
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