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Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer who pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the scientific method. He is world famous for his popular science books and the television series Cosmos, which he co-wrote and presented.
Table of contents [showhide]
1 Education and scientific career
2 Scientific achievements
3 Scientific advocacy
4 Social concerns
5 Popularization of science
8 Awards and medals
9 Related books and media
10 External links
Education and scientific career
Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Sam Sagan, was a Jewish garment worker and his mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, was a housewife. Sagan attended the University of Chicago, where he received a bachelor’s degree (1955) and a master’s degree (1956) in physics, before earning his doctorate (1960) in astronomy and astrophysics. He taught at Harvard University until 1968, when he moved to Cornell University.
Sagan became a full professor at Cornell in 1971 and directed a lab there. He contributed to most of the unmanned space missions that explored our solar system. He conceived the idea of adding an unalterable and universal message on spacecraft destined to leave the solar system, that could be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find it. The first message that was actually sent out into space was a gold-anodized plaque on board of the space probe Pioneer 10. He continued to refine his designs and the most elaborate such message he helped to develop was the Voyager Golden Record that was sent out with the Voyager space probes.
He was well known as a coauthor of the scientific paper that warned of the dangers of nuclear winter. He furthered insights regarding the atmosphere of Venus, seasonal changes on Mars, and Saturn’s moon Titan. He established that the atmosphere of Venus is extremely hot and dense. He suggested that the seasonal changes on Mars were due to windblown dust.
Sagan was among the first to hypothesize that Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa may contain oceans (a subsurface ocean in the case of Europa) or lakes, making them habitable for life. Europa’s subsurface ocean was later indirectly confirmed by the spacecraft Galileo.
Sagan was a proponent of the search for extraterrestrial life. He urged the scientific community to listen with large radio telescopes for signals from intelligent extraterrestrial lifeforms. He advocated sending probes to other planets. Sagan was Editor in Chief of Icarus (a professional journal concerning planetary research) for 12 years. He cofounded the Planetary Society and was a member of the SETI Institute Board of Trustees.
Sagan believed that the Drake equation suggested that a large number of extraterrestrial civilizations would form, but that the lack of evidence of such civilizations suggests that technological civilizations tend to destroy themselves rather quickly. This stimulated his interest in identifying ways that humanity could destroy itself, with the hope of avoiding such destruction and eventually becoming a space-faring species.
He also perceived global warming as a growing, man-made danger and likened it to the natural development of Venus into a hot life-hostile planet through greenhouse gases.
Under the pseudonym “Mr. X”, Sagan wrote an essay concerning pot smoking in the 1971 book “Reconsidering marijuana”. Lester Grinspoon (the book’s editor), disclosed this to Keay Davidson, Sagan’s biographer. Sagan commmented that marijuana encouraged some of his works and enhanced experiences.
Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking Lander (Jet Propulsion Laboratory photo, public domain)
Popularization of science
Sagan’s capability to convey his ideas allowed many people to better understand the cosmos. He delivered the 1977/1978 Christmas Lectures for Young People at the Royal Institution. He wrote (with Ann Druyan, eventually his third wife) and narrated the highly popular thirteen part PBS television series Cosmos; he also wrote books to popularize science (The Dragons of Eden, which won a Pulitzer Prize, Broca’s Brain, etc.) and a novel, Contact, that was a best-seller and had a film adaptation starring Jodie Foster in 1997. The film won the 1998 Hugo Award.
From Cosmos, Sagan became associated with the catchphrase “billions and billions” which he never actually used in the television series. (He simply often used the word “billions.”) He wrote “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”, which was selected as a notable book of 1995 by The New York Times.
Sagan caused mixed reactions among other professional scientists. On the one hand, there was general support for his popularization of science, his efforts to increase scientific understanding among the general public, and his positions in favor of skepticism and against pseudoscience. On the other hand, there was some unease that the public would misunderstand some of the personal positions and interests that Sagan took as being part of the scientific consensus rather than his own personal views, and there was some unease, which some believe to have been motivated in part by professional jealousy, that scientific views contrary to those that Sagan took (such as on the severity of nuclear winter) were not being sufficiently presented to the public. His comments on the Kuwait oil well fires during the first Gulf War were shown later to be in error.
Late in his life, Sagan’s books developed his skeptical, atheistic view of the world. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he presented tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent ones, essentially advocating wide use of the scientific method.
The compilation Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the End of the Millennium, published after Sagan’s death, contains essays written by Sagan, such as his views on abortion, and Ann Druyan’s account of his death as a non-believer.
Sagan was known to have a bit of an ego. In 1994, Apple Computer began developing the Power Macintosh 7100. They chose the internal code name “Sagan”, in honor of the astronomer. Though the project name was strictly internal and never used in public marketing, when Sagan learned of this internal usage, he sued Apple Computer to use a different project name. Though Sagan lost the suit, Apple engineers complied with his demands anyway, renaming the project “Butthead Astronomer”. Sagan sued Apple for libel over the new name, claiming that it subjected him to contempt and ridicule. Sagan lost this lawsuit as well; still, the 7100 saw another name change: it was now called “LAW” (Lawyers Are Wimps).
Sagan married three times; Lynn Margulis (mother of Dorion Sagan) in 1957, artist Linda Salzman in 1968, and author Ann Druyan in 1981, to whom he remained married until his death.
After a long and difficult fight with myelodysplasia, Sagan died at the age of 62, on December 20, 1996. Sagan was a significant figure, and his supporters credit his importance to his popularising the natural sciences, opposing both restraints on science and reactionary applications of science, defending democratic traditions, resisting nationalism, defending humanism, and arguing against geocentric and anthropocentric views.
The landing site of the unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in honor of Dr. Sagan on July 5, 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.
The 1997 movie “Contact” (see above), based on Sagan’s novel of the same name, and finished after his death, movingly ends with the dedication For Carl.
Awards and medals
Apollo Achievement Award – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Chicken Little Honorable Mention – 1991 – National Anxiety Center
Distinguished Public Service – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Emmy – Outstanding individual achievement – 1981 – PBS series “Cosmos”
Emmy – Outstanding Informational Series – 1981 – PBS series “Cosmos”
Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Helen Caldicott Leadership Award – Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament
Homer Award – 1997 – “Contact”
Hugo Award – 1998 – “Contact”
Hugo Award – 1981 – “Cosmos”
Hugo Award – 1997 – “The Demon-Haunted World”
In Praise of Reason Award – 1987 – Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
Isaac Asimov Award – 1994 – Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award – American Astronautical Society
John W. Campbell Memorial Award – 1974 – “The Cosmic Connection”
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal – Soviet Cosmonauts Federation
Locus Poll Award 1986 – “Contact”
Lowell Thomas Award – Explorers Club – 75th Anniversary
Masursky Award – American Astronomical Society
Peabody – 1980 – PBS series “Cosmos”
Public Welfare Medal – 1994 – National Academy of Sciences
Pulitzer Prize for Literature – 1978 – “The Dragons of Eden”
SF Chronicle Award – 1998 – “Contact”
Carl Sagan Memorial Award – Named in his honor
Related books and media
Sagan, Carl and Jonathon Norton Leonard and editors of Life, “Planets”. Time, Inc. 1966
Sagan, Carl and I.S. Shklovskii, “Intelligent Life in the Universe”. Random House, 1966
Sagan, Carl, “Communicaton with Extraterrestrial Intelligence”. MIT Press, 1973
Sagan, Carl, et. al. “Mars and the Mind of Man”. Harper & Row, 1973
Sagan, Carl, “Other Worlds”. Bantam Books, 1975
Sagan, Carl, et. al. “Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record”. Random House, 1977
Sagan, Carl et. al. “The Nuclear Winter: The World After Nuclear War”. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985
Sagan, Carl and James Randi, “The Faith Healers”. Prometheus Books, May 1989 ISBN 0879755350 318 pgs
Sagan, Carl and Richard Turco, “A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race”. Random House, 1990
Sagan, Carl, “The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence”. Ballantine Books, December 1989 ISBN 0345346297 288 pgs
Sagan, Carl, “Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science”. Ballantine Books, October 1993 ISBN 0345336895 416 pgs
Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are”. Ballantine Books, October 1993 ISBN 0345384725 528 pgs
Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan, “Comet”. Ballantine Books, February 1997 ISBN 0345412222 496 pgs
Sagan, Carl, “Contact”. Doubleday Books, August 1997 ISBN 1568654243 352 pgs
Sagan, Carl, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space” Ballantine Books, September 1997 ISBN 0345376595 384 pgs
Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan, “Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium”. Ballantine Books, June 1998 ISBN 0345379187 320 pgs
Sagan, Carl, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark”. Ballantine Books, March 1997 ISBN 0345409469 480 pgs
Sagan, Carl and Jerome Agel, “Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective”. Cambridge University Press, January 15, 2000 ISBN 0521783038 301 pgs
Sagan, Carl, “Cosmos”. Random House, May 7, 2002 ISBN 0375508325 384 pgs
Zemeckis, Robert, “Contact” (1997) Warner Studios ASIN 0790736330 [ IMDB ]
Davidson, Keay, “Carl Sagan : A Life”. John Wiley & Sons, August 31, 2000 ISBN 0471395366 560 pgs