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 1950s. 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 proved 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 the 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 co-founder 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.