Sagans Legacy

Throughout his career, there was very little that concerned space and astronomy in which Carl Sagan was not involved. He delved into areas of planetary exploration, life in the cosmos, science education, and public policy and government regulation of science and the environment. Sagan won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1978 for The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977). He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and authored, coauthored, and edited more than 20 books.

Aside from being a prolific writer, he was involved in the NASA space program from the very beginning, including the Mariner, Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to other planets between the 1960s and the 1990s. He received a medal for exceptional scientific achievement, two for distinguished public service, and also the NASA Apollo Achievement Award, among many others. Colleges and universities across the United States also bestowed more than 20 medals and awards on Sagan for his contributions to science, literature, and education, but he may be remembered best for his public image.

Carl Sagan's success can be attributed to many things, including his ambition, intelligence, and good timing as far as the blossoming U.S. space program was concerned, but it was his uncommon gift for communication that gained him the public role he played within his chosen profession. There is no doubt that Carl Sagan's lifework will influence the world community in the generations to come. It would be very appropriate to think of Carl Sagan as the people's astronomer.


1934 Born on November 9 in Brooklyn, New York

1939 Visits the New York World's Fair, which makes a lasting impression on his thoughts toward science

1951 Enters the University of Chicago on scholarship

1952-53 Meets Nobel Prize-winning American geneticists Herrmann Muller and Harold Urey, and learns of Stuart Miller and the Miller-Urey experiment. The new field of exobiology is born.

1955 Receives a bachelor's degree in physics from the

University of Chicago


Receives a master's degree in physics from the University of Chicago and a National Science Foundation predoctor-al fellowship


Asked to be a leading member of a special NASA committee to implement exobiology into the space program


earns a doctorate in astrophysics and astronomy from the University of Chicago


Begins teaching as an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard University and starts work as an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Observatory


Mariner 4 sends back the first good photos of Mars, showing a planet devoid of vegetation of any kind


Publishes Planets, his first nontechnical book


Becomes professor of astronomy at Cornell University


Pioneer 10 launches for Jupiter, carrying within it Sagan's gold plaque engraved with greetings from Earth


Makes his first appearance on The Tonight Show, promoting his upcoming book, The Cosmic Connection


The Voyager missions launch in summer, each carrying a gold-plated record with messages from Earth


Shooting and production begins on television series Cosmos


Cosmos airs on September 28. Sagan cofounds the Planetary Society with Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray, and becomes its first president


Helps found the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)


Is diagnosed with bone marrow disease


Dies on December 20 in Seattle, Washington

1997 His book Billions and Billions is published posthumously

1997 His book Billions and Billions is published posthumously


Cohen, Daniel. Carl Sagan: Superstar Scientist. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987. A biography of Carl Sagan's career written for younger readers.

Davidson, Keay. Carl Sagan: A Life. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2000. A finely researched biography on the successes and controversies surrounding Carl Sagan and his illustrious public career.

Poundstone, William. Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. A comprehensive biography of Carl Sagan, ranging from his childhood to events after his death.

Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. New York: Random House, 1980. A companion book based on the award-winning 1970s TV series of the same name, covering 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. It spent 72 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

-. The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human

Intelligence. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986. Sagan's Pulitzer Prize-winning book that takes the reader through a history of the origins of human intelligence.

-, and I. S. Shklovskii. Intelligent Life in the Universe. New

York: Random House, 1966. At nearly 40 years old, this volume stills holds a surprising amount of useful information discussing the scientific possibilities of life in the cosmos. It is a fine example of Carl Sagan's compelling writing style.

Web Sites

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.) Available online. URL: Accessed November 29, 2004. The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe. Web site offers membership, media information, SETI news, events calendar, featured topics, and announcements.

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