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Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan Planetary Society.JPG
Carl Sagan in 1980
Carl Edward Sagan

(1934-11-09)November 9, 1934
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died December 20, 1996(1996-12-20) (aged 62)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Resting place Ithaca, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Chicago
Known for
Lynn Margulis
(m. 1957; div. 1965)

Linda Salzman
(m. 1968; div. 1981)

Ann Druyan (m. 1981)
Children 5, including Dorion and Nick
Awards Klumpke-Roberts Award (1974)
NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (1977)
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction (1978)
Oersted Medal (1990)
Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science (1993)
National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal (1994)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisor Gerard Kuiper
Doctoral students Clark Chapman, James B. Pollack, Owen Toon

Carl Edward Sagan ( November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences. He is best known for his work as a science popularizer and communicator. His best known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. Sagan assembled the first physical messages sent into space: the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them. Sagan argued the now accepted hypothesis that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect.

Sagan published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He wrote many popular science books, such as The Dragons of Eden, Broca's Brain and Pale Blue Dot, and narrated and co-wrote the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The most widely watched series in the history of American public television, Cosmos has been seen by at least 500 million people across 60 different countries. The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. He also wrote the science fiction novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name. His papers, containing 595,000 items, are archived at The Library of Congress.

Sagan advocated scientific skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). He spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. Sagan and his works received numerous awards and honors, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Dragons of Eden, and, regarding Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, two Emmy Awards, the Peabody Award and the Hugo Award. He married three times and had five children. After suffering from myelodysplasia, Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62, on December 20, 1996.

Education and work

Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, New York City where his father, Sam Sagan, was a Jewish clothes maker and his mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, was a housewife. Sagan attended the University of Chicago earning two degrees in physics. He followed with a doctorate in Astronomy in 1960 and taught at Harvard University until 1968, when he moved to Cornell University.

Sagan became a teacher and director at Cornell in 1971. He helped many unmanned spacecraft to explore outer space. He thought of the idea of putting a message on spacecraft which could be understood by any life from another planet that might find it. The first message sent into space was a large gold-plated label on the space probe Pioneer 10. He continued to make the messages better. The last message he helped with was the Voyager Golden Record that was sent out with the Voyager space probes.

Scientific achievements

He was well known as a writer who warned of the dangers of nuclear winter. He helped people learn about the atmosphere of Venus, seasonal changes on Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan. He showed that the atmosphere of Venus is very hot and dense. He also said that global warming was a growing, man-made danger like the natural development of Venus into a hot and dangerous planet with greenhouse gases. He suggested that the seasonal changes on Mars were due to dust storms.

Sagan was among the first to guess that Titan and Jupiter's moon Europa might have oceans or lakes, which means that life could be there. Europa's underground ocean was later confirmed by the spacecraft Galileo.

Sagan thought the search for life on other planets was a good idea. He said scientists should listen with large radio telescopes for signals from other planets. He thought sending probes to other planets was a good idea. Sagan was editor Icarus (a magazine about space exploration) for 12 years. He helped start the Planetary Society and was a member of the SETI Institute Board of Trustees.

Social concerns

Sagan also believed that the Drake equation suggested that many kinds of intelligent life could form, but that the lack of evidence (the Fermi paradox) suggests that intelligent beings destroy themselves rather quickly. This made him keen to talk about ways that humanity could destroy itself, in the hope of avoiding such destruction.

Making science popular

Sagan was very good at helping people to understand the cosmos. He gave the 1977/1978 Christmas Lectures for Young People at the Royal Institution. He wrote (with Ann Druyan, who became his third wife) and made the very popular thirteen-part PBS television series Cosmos; he also wrote books to help science become more popular (The Dragons of Eden, which won a Pulitzer Prize, Broca's Brain, etc.) and a novel, Contact, that was a best-seller and was made into a film starring Jodie Foster in 1997. The film won the 1998 Hugo Award.

After Cosmos, Sagan was linked with the catchphrase "billions and billions", which he never used in the television series (but he often used the word "billions"). He wrote Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, which was chosen as a notable book of 1995 by The New York Times.

Not all scientists agreed with him. Although they all liked the way he made science popular, some were afraid that people would think that his personal opinions might be confused with real science. What he said about the Kuwait oil well fires during the first Gulf War were shown later to be wrong.

Later in his life, Sagan's books showed his skeptical, naturalistic view of the world.


Some people thought Sagan had a big ego. In 1994, Apple Inc. chose a code name "Sagan" when they developed the Power Macintosh 7100. When Sagan heard this, he tried to make Apple Computer use another name. Sagan lost the fight in court, but Apple engineers did what he asked anyway, and named the project "Butthead Astronomer". Sagan tried to sue Apple again, saying they made him look stupid. Sagan lost in court again, but the name of the project was changed to "LAW" (Lawyers Are Wimps).

Sagan is said to have been an atheist or agnostic, but some people have said he was a pantheist, because he said things like "The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by 'God' one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity."

Sagan purchased a house on the edge of Ithaca Falls which looked like an Egyptian crypt. Before it was converted into a house, the building served as the lodge for a secret society, Sphinx Head.

Personal life

Sagan was married three times. In 1957, he married biologist Lynn Margulis. The couple had two children, Jeremy and Dorion Sagan. After Sagan and Margulis divorced, he married artist Linda Salzman in 1968 and they also had a child together, Nick Sagan. During these marriages, Carl Sagan focused heavily on his career, a factor which may have contributed to Sagan's first divorce. In 1981, Sagan married author Ann Druyan and they later had two children, Alexandra (known as Sasha) and Samuel Sagan. Carl Sagan and Druyan remained married until his death in 1996.


After a long and difficult fight with myelodysplasia, Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62, on December 20, 1996, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Sagan was very important, because he made science popular, and changed the way science was organized, and because he defended humanism, and argued against seeing things from only one point of view.

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, 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

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