He was the “astronomer of the people”, a remarkable astrophysicist, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and an avid researcher of the wonders of the universe. Dr. Sagan was often described as “the scientist who made the universe clearer to the ordinary person” as he spent most of his remarkable life making crucial contributions in making astronomy accessible to the public.
Born in New York City on November 9, 1934 Carl Sagan described himself as a childhood science fiction addict who became fascinated by the study of celestial objects the moment he realized that every star in the night sky was a distant Sun. With the encouragement of his parents to research answers to his innumerable questions about science he let his scientific curiosity free to earn him four degrees in physics, astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Chicago.
Carl Sagan taught and conducted research at Harvard University. He was among the first to determine that life could have existed on Mars. In 1968, Dr. Sagan became a professor at Cornell University where he was also director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. He was well-known as a pioneer in the field of exobiology, the study of the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Therefore he constantly appealed to NASA to extend its exploration of the universe. In his role as a visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Carl Sagan helped design and manage the Mariner 2 mission to Venus, the Mariner 9 and Viking trips to Mars, the Voyager mission to the outer solar system and the Galileo mission to Jupiter.
Dr. Sagan, a lifelong smoker of cannabis was brave enough to explain in the 1971 book Reconsidering Marijuana how the drug heightened his sensory experience, gave him an appreciation for the spiritual realm (“a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate”), enhanced his enjoyment of sex, and allowed him to achieve some “devastating” insights into scientific, creative and particularly social questions. Cannabis also gave him a newfound respect for art and music.
Carl Sagan suffered from a rare bone marrow disease called myelodysplasia, complications of which caused the pneumonia which ended his extraordinary and somehow spaced-out life on December 20,1996.