I Never Knew Carl Sagan

I never really noticed Carl Sagan until after his death. Part of that was due to how I backed slowly into science. My childhood may have been filled with Asimov’s books and the spectacles of Star Wars and Star Trek, but I hadn’t given much thought to becoming an honest-to-goodness scientist. In high school, after visiting our school’s guidance counselor, I told a friend, “I looked at the list of jobs and aerospace engineer sounded cool.” He looked at me and said, “Huh, I’d have thought you were more interested in something fundamental like physics.” Andrew was right, and though I doubt he even remembers telling me that, his words were what set me on my science path, not the writing or TV appearances of the man in the turtleneck and buff jacket.

I didn’t watch Cosmos. I didn’t read The Demon-Haunted World or even Contact. I knew of him, of course, but didn’t pay much attention to him. In 1996, when I heard he’d died, I was sad for those I knew whose lives he’d touched.

As the years have passed, though, I’ve become a belated fan. As I’ve dabbled more and more with popularizing aspects of science, I’ve come to appreciate his uncanny knack for explaining the wonder of science. As I have become more enamored of the wonder of science, I’ve fallen in love with how Sagan made even the most complex and gigantic concepts understandable.

So when I saw the above video last week, I stared raptly at it and played it over and over. The autotuning of Sagan is geeky and awkward, and emphasizes how he could sound like Kermit the Frog, and yet it captures his enthusiasm, his wonder, and his optimism. And that’s a damn fine thing.

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