One of my childhood hero’s, Carl Sagan was instrumental in getting me and keeping me interested in science and astronomy in particular. I still remember my father and I watching the TV show Cosmos in the late 1970s. It, like any TV program back in those days, was a big family event which sometimes included popcorn or actual TV Dinners on a TV tray (this did not happen very often). On November 9th, 1934 in Brooklyn, New York, astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Edward Sagan was born to Russian immigrant Samuel Sagan and New York housewife Rachel Molly Gruber. Sagan’s interest in science was ignited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair at the age of four. That fire was continued with his exploration of the public library at the age of five. He was looking for a book about stars. He also took trips to the American Museum of Natural History with his friends at the age of six or seven, again looking for books. His education included a bachelor’s degree in 1954, bachelor’s degree in physics in 1955, Master of Science in physics in 1956, and a PhD in both astronomy and astrophysics in 1960. His popularization of science kicked into high gear with the writing of Cosmos. The book was made into a very popular television documentary named Cosmos: A Personal Journey.
The show consisted of thirteen episodes and originally aired in 1980. Cosmos has won an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and been seen in more than sixty countries by over half a billion people. This was so popular that it has been rereleased multiple times worldwide with the latest being the digitally restored and remastered 2009 five-disc DVD set in the UK. His show even sparked a spinoff Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey [Blu-ray] hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson who was an acquaintance of his. Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan who was a coproducer of the original series is an executive producer on the new series.
He wrote several other science related books including A Pale Blue Dot in 1994 as a sequel to Cosmos. His book The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence even won a Pulitzer Prize. Sagan was also a science fiction author writing such books as Contact, which was made into the movie Contact [Blu-ray] or Contact (DVD) starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. This movie won the 1998 Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation.
Carl Sagan was the designer of the gold plaques containing the universal message from Earth on two Pioneer spacecraft as well as the gold record on the Voyager spacecraft. Many of his theories and ideas have been proven over the years including the surface conditions of Saturn’s moons Titan and Europa and his ideas on global warming.
One of Sagan’s greatest passions was the search for extraterrestrial life. He served on the SETI Institute Board of Trustees. He was one of the founders of The Planetary Society with Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman in 1980. The society promotes and participates in astronomy and planetary sciences. It is quite possible that no other person in the history of astronomy has been as successful at popularizing astronomy and science in general as Sagan. Carl Sagan passed away on December 20th, 1996 at the age of 62.
Share this post!