Monday, November 9, 2009

Hail Sagan!


By all reported reviews and YouTube vids, the first annual Carl Sagan Day on November 7th appears to have been a pleasant success. Broward College in Florida hosted lectures, planetarium shows, children’s games, educator workshops, COSMOS episodes, telescope instruction, and star-gazing!

The celebration was to honor what would have been Sagan’s 75th birthday, which is actually today, November 9th. Most people recognize him from COSMOS in the 1980s (the most widely watched program in PBS history) and I’ve blogged about my idolization of his highly-quotable material before.

Carl Sagan with globe of Mars
While Carl conducted complex experiments and tasks, he never lost the ability to make space "knowable" to audiences of all ages. He was known for popularizing and revering science in a way that inspired people to understand both our insignificance in the larger universe, but also, paradoxically, the absolutely precious nature of our enormously unlikely existence.

An astronomer, philosopher, professor and NASA consultant, Carl Sagan won 30 public awards, published over 600 scientific articles and authored or co-authored 20 books. I’ll never weary of recommending Pale Blue Dot to anyone who will listen!

He taught at Cornell and Harvard universities, and worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Other titles included technology officer of the Icarus planetary research journal, Planetary Science Chair at the Astronomical Society, Astronomy Chairman at the Advancement of Science Association, and Co-Founder of the Planetary Society, the Earth’s largest space-interest group.

(Starting to feel like a slacker yet? Yeah, me too.)

Carl Sagan and Viking Lander
Sagan was instrumental in the early Mariner missions to Venus, determined landing sites on Mars for the Viking Lander probes, and also assembled the first physical messages sent into space – the famous "golden records" that hitched rides on Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11 and Voyager probes in the 1970s.

He was instrumental in establishing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence(SETI), urging the use of radio telescopes to detect signals from other intelligent life. Along with Frank Drake, he also composed the Arecibo message, beamed once into space in 1974.

Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan passed away in December 1996 at the age of 62, and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca, New York. After landing, the unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

Speaking for space geeks everywhere... thanks a billion, Carl.