New Mexico Museum of Space History
International Space Hall of Fame

Carl Sagan
Inducted in 2004

Photograph of Carl Sagan

Played a leading role in the U.S. Space Program and helped popularize the science of astronomy.

Carl E. Sagan was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 9, 1934. A graduate of Rahway High School in New Jersey in 1951, he enrolled in the University of Chicago. There he earned three degrees: a bachelor's degree in 1955 and a master's degree in 1956, both in physics, and in 1960, a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics. In addition to working at the Smithsonian Institution from 1962 to 1968, he taught at Harvard University until 1968. He became a professor at Cornell University in 1971. Carl Sagan received over twenty honorary degrees from universities in North America alone.

Dr. Sagan was a consultant and adviser to NASA beginning in the 1950's. He helped brief the Apollo astronauts and worked on the Pioneer, Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo projects. Sagan designed the pictographic and numerical symbols for the plaques on the Pioneer spacecraft intended for any extraterrestrial life forms that might discover them after they left our Solar System. He was the first to hypothesize that Saturn's moon Titan, and Jupiter's moon Europa have oceans or lakes, suppositions later proven correct.

Carl Sagan was also the first to correctly theorize that the atmosphere of Venus is extremely hot and dense and the seasonal changes on Mars are due to dust storms, not vegetation growth. Sagan published more than 600 scientific papers and popular articles, and was author, co-author, or editor of more than 20 books. He was probably best known for his book Cosmos, which spent 70 weeks on the bestseller list and became a Peabody award-winning series, watched by 500 million people in 60 countries. Cosmos remains the best-selling science book ever printed in the English language. Dr. Sagan won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 publication Dragons of Eden.

Dr Sagan received many awards, including the NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the Distinguished Public Service (twice), as well as the NASA Apollo Achievement Award. He also received the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award of the American Astronautical Society; the Explorers Club 75th Anniversary Award, the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal of the Soviet Cosmonautics Federation and the Masursky Award of the American Astronomical Society.

In 1994 Carl Sagan was honored with the Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences. He was a cofounder and President of The Planetary Society and also a member and strong supporter of SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. For decades Dr. Sagan was a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. 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. For twelve years he was Editor in Chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research.

Dr. Carl Sagan died on December 20, 1996 in Seattle, Washington after a long struggle with myelodysplasia, a rare bone marrow disease. Asteroid 2709 Sagan and a Martian crater are named in his honor. The landing site of the Mars Pathfinder was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station by NASA on July 5, 1997. On November 9, 2001, on what would have been his sixty-seventh birthday, NASA's Ames Research Center dedicated the cornerstone for the new Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Cosmos.

Dr. Carl E. Sagan quotes:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

"If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds. Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze."

"If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?"

"It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to fifty words used in correct context- no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese."

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality."

"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition."

"Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."

"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."

"When Kepler found his long-cherished belief did not agree with the most precise observation, he accepted the uncomfortable fact. He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions, that is the heart of science."

"We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow, biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation."

"In the cosmic perspective there is no reason to think that we are the first or the last or the best."

"The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent."

"If the dinosaurs had had a space program, they would not be extinct."

"Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring--not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive... If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds."

"The significance of a finding that there are other beings who share this universe with us would be absolutely phenomenal, it would be an epochal event in human history."

"We have looked close-up at dozens of new worlds. Worlds we never saw before. And unless we are so stupid to destroy ourselves, we are going to be moving out to space in the next century. And if I'm fortunate enough to have played a part in the first preliminary reconnaissance in the solar system, that's a terrifically exciting thing."

"Are we an exceptionally unlikely accident or is the universe brimming over with intelligence? (It's) a vital question for understanding ourselves and our history."