It takes a lot to think outside the box. It takes even more when you have to do so in a totally unknown realm like space. Carl Sagan, American astronomer, author, astrophysicist, and visionary scientist, did just that. Sagan lived November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996 and accomplished feats that any ordinary man would only dream of. Upon examining his life, there is no doubt of the brilliance behind Sagan.
Brooklyn born Sagan knew by the time of age 12 that astronomy was for him. But unbeknownst to the eager boy wonder, the career would lead him down a path of revelation, fame, and criticism. If you’re not sure if you’ve heard of him, ask yourself if you’ve ever heard that people are merely stardust. If you have, you’ve already been influenced by Carl Sagan.
As detailed by The Planetary Society, Sagan “he briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon, and was an experimenter on the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to the planets. He helped solve the mysteries of the high temperature of Venus (a massive greenhouse effect), the seasonal changes on Mars (windblown dust) and the reddish haze of Titan (complex organic molecules).”
And that was just his career as a consultant and adviser at NASA.
In addition to being a cofounder of The Planetary Society, he also “served as Chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, as President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and as Chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”
Sagan also worked as the Editor-in-Chief of Icarus. The planetary research journal serves as the official publication of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, and Sagan helped direct its focus for 12 years.
Despite his wit, Carl didn’t keep himself strictly secluded to the best and brightest of astronomy. Sagan and his third wife Ann Druyan wrote the best-seller Cosmos (the best selling science book in the English language) as well as the 13-part television series “Cosmos”, which taught millions about the 15-billion-year history of the universe.
Pale Blue Dot, a reference to earth in a title to one of his books, is a personal favorite idea of mine (I highly suggest following the link to watch a short movie narrated by Sagan – Pale Blue Dot). Sagan had a niche for cleverly, yet succinctly describing and speaking about the world we live on. As Sagan brilliantly noted, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark…Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”
Humbling to say the least.
Sagan even showed some of his more eclectic side when writing as “Mr. X”. Under the pseudo name, Sagan contributed a 7-page essay to the book Marihuana Reconsidered. In it, he described how some of his most unique ideas came from being “high.” It’s been discovered that Sagan actually wrote notes to his sober self while under the influence, only to take the notes and develop the ideas analytically, putting them to the test of science.
In all of Sagan’s roles – that of a scientist, a celebrity, an activist, a teacher – he operated well above the typical. It is because of this performance, this commitment to his trade, this acceptance of his own reality, that Sagan is a visionary.
Without a doubt, “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”
Special thanks to the Planetary Society and Cannabis Culture Magazine for great sources of information on Sagan.