Yesterday the world lost a magnificent innovator

Yesterday I attended a meeting looking at the value of creating an International Lunar Research Park.  Yes- a research park on the moon.  The idea would be to develop the infrastructure using robots and then establish habitable bases on the moon which could be used as a jumping off place for exploring further outreaches of the galaxy, providing new research and education opportunities on a variety of topics (including sustainability), creating business opportunities (like mining Helium 3 which could be used as a source of fuel for nuclear fusion- which is safer than the fission we’re now using).

One of the early presentations during the day was on the amazing benefits that have come from previous space exploration.  For example, most hospital monitoring devices are derived from the telemetry used to measure vital signs of astronauts in flight.  Some of the materials used to strengthen hip implants were developed as a by-product of research to harden materials used in space flight. Air traffic safety was improved because of technologies developed for space travel.  Early warning systems -like the one that saved lives in Japan- are a by-product of NASA technology.  Clothing used to improve the speed of world-class athletes incorporated findings from the study of flight aerodynamics.  And the list goes on and on.  He ended with a quote from Heraclitus: “If you do not the expect the unexpected you will not find it.”

The author/presenter of the piece was Dr. Baruch (Barry) Blumberg, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his development of the vaccine for Hepatitis B- a discovery that has saved millions of lives.  As is often true of innovators, he didn’t set out to find a cure for Hepatitis B, it was an unintended consequence of other research.  Later in his life, Barry and his colleague, Lynn Harper, created the field of astrobiology.  With his insatiable curiosity and love of discovery, at 85 this remarkable innovator was head of the Philosophical Society, still teaching and doing research in Medicine and Anthropology, and a major advocate of resuming space exploration for the betterment of mankind.   He was so dedicated to the cause, that he had delayed celebrating his wedding anniversary to come to NASA Ames for this meeting.

That presentation was one of his very last.  Later that day, while still at the session, Barry died of a massive heart attack.    Those present tried to find some comfort knowing he had been doing what he loved, surrounded by people who admired and loved him- & it had been quick.    Small comfort indeed.  The world has lost a remarkable man- the ultimate explorer and innovator who was humble, warm, and giving.  He will be missed…..