I originally posted about Carl Sagan on my own blog back in 2007. At the time, I was moved by being given his novel Contact by a good friend — having never read it previously. Delving into the story brought back a whole range of formative memories about my first encounter with Carl Sagan, cosmology, physics, and the bright wonder of the universe around us.
It was 1980. I was 11. PBS first aired Carl Sagan’s series Cosmos. It would go on to be viewed by over 600 million people worldwide — becoming the most watched PBS documentary of all time. For many of us, this was our introduction to the history of the universe, to astrophysics, and to planetary science.
I remember being totally riveted. I remember thinking that Carl Sagan was cool.
Today, Carl Sagan is still very cool; but I had not thought much about him over the years. I was sad when I learned a few years ago that he had died in 1996 at the age of only 62. Suddenly, I remembered how important an influence he was for me when I was younger.
I know that my love of space exploration, NASA, SETI, science in general, and my passion for learning about the universe was intensified by watching Carl Sagan on television while laying on the family room floor when I was 11.
I remember my father watching with me having exactly the same reaction, which resulted in a series of incredible conversations between us. I remember laying in bed those nights — my mind reeling with possibility and enthusiasm for the unknowns all around us.
Since my own rediscovery of Sagan five years ago, I’m much more tuned into the extensive legacy he left behind. I see a proliferation of clips and interviews regularly shared via social media. I see references to him in articles and blog posts. One of his most important scientific endeavors was participating in NASA’s Voyager 1 program. Of that probe’s interstellar exploratory mission, Sagan said:
“…the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”
Astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson can draw a direct line from his success in communicating about science and astrophysics back to personally meeting Carl Sagan as a student. For me, this signals the staying power, relevance, and importance of both Sagan and his relentless effort to demystify science, astrophysics, and to share the excitement of discovery.
When I watch Cosmos today, I still have the same feelings that I had back in 1980 laying on the family room floor. Here’s another Sagan quote, a favorite of mine:
“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
YouTube has an abundance of segments from Cosmos and interviews with Carl Sagan. They are definitely worthy of your exploration.
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