Much more recent a figure than my other Important People, I feel Carl Sagan deserves a mention today. His birthday was November 9, 1934.
I am not nearly eloquent or knowledgeable enough compared to others I know to comment on his amazing works and his pioneering the concept of making science accessible (and cool!) to the public, but I appreciate them and love the works all the same.
He was not just a television figure, a host of a TV show, as captivating and renowned as Cosmos was. He was a real astronomer, an astrophysicist, a man who worked on real satellites, and looked through telescopes in laboratories, and realized things like the fact that Venus is, in reality, a hot and dry hellscape, and not a balmy paradise as once imagined.
From the beginning of his career, Sagan was the advocate that science needed. In a time that scientists and officials scoffed at the notion of bringing science to the masses, Sagan realized how important it was for the general population to, at the very least, be interested in and value science, even if they didn’t understand the deeper concepts involved. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the value of learning about our planet from a perspective we’ve never seen before.
Before his death in 1996, Carl Sagan designed the plaque and record that traveled on the Voyager satellites, that represented all of humankind to any civilization or species that might intercept them, millions or billions of years in the future. He was also involved in establishing SETI -the institute for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. He also authored Contact, which would later be made into an award-winning movie starring Jodie Foster, and many books regarding humanity’s presence in the universe and the possibility for extraterrestrial life. He was a pioneer in promoting skepticism and scientific thinking in day-to-day life, and showed people how amazing and fantastical their own world was, their own planet was, how much more wonderful reality was than anything we could ever dream up.
Quote from Cosmos, “Pale Blue Dot” - The Earth, as it appears from Pluto, photographed by Voyager 1
Allen Radio Telescope Array at SETI
Carl Sagan portrait by Pat Linse - “An Awful Hole, A Wonderful Life” by Michael Shermer via Skeptic
“Sounds of Earth” - the golden record carried on Voyager 1 and 2