I, like many people, remember being captivated by the man in the turtleneck sweater, who told us we were children of the stars and made you believe that one day we might return. It was a time before the Internet and cable television, when science programming was a rarity. As a young boy, I sat and watched, mesmerized as much by the man as by the unfolding universe he introduced to us. We were beginning our first steps into the outer solar system with the Pioneer and Voyager programs, and it seemed that humanity’s future was just on the horizon. Sagan brought these new worlds to our living rooms, in a way that educated, but also inspired us as well.
It would not be until much later that I would realize the full scope of the man’s work. He was not only an astronomer and television host, but an educator, author, and advocate of science and reason. As a professor at Cornell, he was involved with the scientific exploration of the solar system from the early days of NASA, with the highlight of his academic career undoubtedly being his scientific contributions to the exploration of the four gas giants and their moons.
His efforts at outreach were at first strongly criticized by many in the scientific community, however. Like many pioneers, he challenged the status quo of his time. Similarly, his support and research into the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence were met with derision in some camps. Sagan was a fervent critic of pseudo-science, and ruffled many feathers by debunking extraordinary and unsupported claims of supernatural abilities, especially astrology. His warnings about global warming were largely ignored, despite demonstrating that this was the same greenhouse effect that had turned Venus into an inhospitable wasteland. His greatest and most lasting legacy, though, is the children he inspired to embrace science and the children-at-heart who learned to appreciate the world of which they were a part.
We should all hope to live a life as full of wonder at the vastness and beauty of the universe as he did.
- The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos, to know itself. (metafilter.com)
- A Universe Not Made For Us HD: Carl Sagan on religion, geocentrism [Carl Sagan Tribute Series] – YouTube (sustainabilityandbeauty.wordpress.com)
- The Green Universe: Carl Sagan (sierraclub.typepad.com)
- Carl Sagan Day 2012 Approaches! (skepticalteacher.wordpress.com)