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Carl Sagan

Carl SaganAKA Carl Edward Sagan

Born: 9-Nov-1934
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY
Died: 20-Dec-1996
Location of death: Seattle, WA [1]
Cause of death: Pneumonia [2]
Remains: Buried, Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca, NY

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer, Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Popular astronomer, host of Cosmos

Arguably the best-known scientist and skeptic of the last half of the 20th century, Carl Sagan announced his intention to become an astronomer when he was 12. He studied at the University of Chicago, taught at Harvard and Cornell, and conducted important research into the atmospheres of Venus and Saturn, exobiology (life on other planets), and nuclear winter. He was an advocate for human settlement of Mars, worked with NASA on every space expedition over several decades, and edited Icarus, the scientific journal of solar system studies.

In scientific circles much of his renown came from a pair of debates conducted under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 1969 he challenged J. Allen Hynek on whether investigations of unidentified flying objects should be considered serious science (Hynek argued yes, Sagan no), and in 1974 he faced a famed scientist, Immanuel Velikovsky, on theories of global catastrophes. In both these academic bouts, Sagan was generally seen as the victor, and his opponents were effectively relegated to the fringes of pseudoscience.

Sagan's fame with ordinary people began with several appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, increased with numerous books explaining science in layman's terms, and peaked with the 13-part public television series Cosmos in 1980. The program, with Sagan's poetic strolls through time and space, asked big philosophical questions with answers that amounted to a college level introduction to cosmology. Cosmos was appreciated by physicists and stoners alike, and it remains the most widely-seen work from America's Public Broadcasting Service. It was pop culture gold for Sagan, and added his much-parodied but genuinely awe-filled catchphrase "billions and billions" to the worldwide vocabulary.

In the aftermath of Cosmos, Sagan became more controversial when he used his newfound fame to oppose President Ronald Reagan's Space Defense Initiative. In the 1980s he was a key player in advancing the then-groundbreaking theory of "nuclear winter", that in addition to nuclear war's other detrimental effects, such a conflagration would fill the atmosphere with dust and smoke that would block the sun's warmth, cooling the planet's surface and causing the global collapse of agriculture. Sagan frequently clashed with Edward Teller, who strongly disputed Sagan on both SDI and nuclear winter.

In 1990, as tensions built toward war between the United States and Iraq, Sagan publicly stated that if Iraq lit its oilfields afire, the resulting petrochemical smoke might trigger a miniature but still disastrous nuclear winter effect. When the Iraqi oilfields did burn, it led to serious environmental consequences but no nuclear winter effect, and Sagan's standing in the scientific community was diminished. In 1994 he was nominated but denied membership in the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

Sagan was a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Planetary Society. He won a Peabody for Cosmos, a Pulitzer for his exploration of human intelligence The Dragons of Eden, and three Hugos, for his nonfiction The Cosmic Connection, for Cosmos, and for his 1985 science fiction novel Contact. The latter work was adapted into a 1997 film starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. His last book, Billions and Billions, was published in 1996, the year Sagan himself passed into the cosmos. His son, Nick Sagan, wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

[1] Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA.

[2] Pneumonia, while undergoing treatment for bone marrow cancer.

Father: Samuel Sagan (factory manager, b. 2-Mar-1905, d. 7-Oct-1979, lung cancer)
Mother: Rachel Molly Gruber Sagan (b. 23-Nov-1907, d. Feb-1982)
Sister: Cari Sagan Greene
Lynn Margulis (biologist, m. 16-Jun-1957, div. circa 1963, two sons)
Son: Dorion Sagan (science writer, b. 1959)
Son: Jeremy Ethan Sagan (computer programmer, b. Oct-1960)
Wife: Linda Salzmann (m. 6- Apr-1968, div. 1978, one son)
Son: Nicholas Julian Zapata Sagan (writer, b. 16-Sep-1970)
Wife: Ann Druyan (m. 1-Jun-1981 until his death, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Alexandra Sagan ("Sasha")
Son: Samuel Democritus Druyan Sagan (b. 1991)

    High School: Rahway High School, Rahway, NJ (1951)
    University: BA Biology, University of Chicago (1954)
    University: MS Physics, University of Chicago (1955)
    University: PhD Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago (1960)
    Scholar: Astrophysicist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (1962-68)
    Teacher: Astronomy, Harvard University (1962-68)
    Teacher: Planetary Studies, Cornell University (1968-71)
    Professor: Astronomy and Space Sciences, Cornell University (1971-96)
    Scholar: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (1986-96)

    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Astronautical Society Fellow
    American Astronomical Society
    American Geophysical Union
    American Philosophical Society 1995
    American Physical Society
    Children's Health Fund Advisory Board
    CSICOP Founding Member:1976
    Council for a Livable World
    Council on Foreign Relations
    Federation of American Scientists
    Guggenheim Foundation
    International Academy of Humanism Laureate
    International Astronomical Union
    Planetary Society Co-Founder (1980)
    Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
    Icarus Editor (1975-85)
    Parade Columnist
    Peabody 1980 for Cosmos
    Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction 1978 for The Dragons of Eden
    Oersted Medal 1990
    Emmy Outstanding individual achievement for Cosmos, 1981
    Emmy Outstanding Informational Series for Cosmos, 1981
    Hugo 1981 for Cosmos
    Hugo 1997 for The Demon-Haunted World
    Hugo 1998 for Contact
    Humanist of the Year 1981
    Public Welfare Medal 1993
    Appendectomy Tompkins County Community Hospital, Ithaca, NY (19-Mar-1983)
    Bone-marrow transplant Apr-1995
    Proxy Baptism: Mormon Provo, UT (13-Mar-1998)
    Austrian Ancestry Maternal
    Ukrainian Ancestry Paternal
    Jewish Ancestry
    Asteroid Namesake 2709 Sagan
    Risk Factors: Marijuana

Official Website:

Appears on the cover of:
Newsweek, 15-Aug-1977, DETAILS: Seeking Other Worlds
Time, 20-Oct-1980, DETAILS: Showman of Science
Parade, 2-Oct-1983, DETAILS: What We Learn from Other Worlds

Author of books:
Atmospheres of Mars and Venus (1961, nonfiction)
Planets (1966, nonfiction, with Jonathan Norton Leonard)
Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966, nonfiction, with Iosif S. Shklovskii)
Planetary Exploration (1970, nonfiction)
Planetary Atmospheres (1971, nonfiction, with Tobias C. Owen and Harlan J. Smith)
U.F.O.'s : A Scientific Debate (1972, with Thornton Page)
The Cosmic Connection : An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973, nonfiction)
Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (1973, nonfiction)
The Dragons of Eden : Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977, nonfiction)
Murmurs of Earth : The Voyager Interstellar Record (1978, nonfiction)
Broca's Brain : Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979, nonfiction)
Cosmos (1980, nonfiction)
Comet (1985, nonfiction, with Ann Druyan)
Contact (1985, novel)
Nuclear Winter (1985, nonfiction)
A Path where No Man Thought : Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race (1990, nonfiction, with Richard P. Turco)
The Demon-Haunted World : Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996, essays)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors : A Search for Who We Are (1992, nonfiction, with Ann Druyan)
Pale Blue Dot : A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994, essays)
Billions and Billions (1996, essays)
The Varieties of Scientific Experience : A Personal View of the Search for God (2006, nonfiction, posthumous, with Ann Druyan)

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