The recent landing of Curiosity on Mars made me think a lot about Carl Sagan this past week. Well, that and finishing my review for The Demon-Haunted World (read review). Sagan loved Mars. He devoted an entire episode to Mars in his seminal science education miniseries Cosmos titled "Blues for a Red Planet". He was involved in the two Viking missions to Mars, and was an advocate for continuing exploration of the red planet. As a boy, his love for science was at least partially kindled by reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' fanciful account of John Carter's adventures on Mars, or as the imagined inhabitants called it "Barsoom".
Even though his love of planetary astronomy was his professional credential as a scientist, Sagan's true calling was as an educator. And he cemented himself in the popular mind as such with his 13-part 1980 documentary series Cosmos. I remember sitting in my parents basement, the television tuned to our local PBS affiliate (WETA Channel 26, if anyone cares) and watching as Sagan patiently explained to my eleven year old self the history of science, how black holes work, what humans are made of, how our brains work, the discoveries that the Voyager spacecraft sent back to us, and a multitude of other topics. In a way, Sagan invited everyone with a television to join in a classroom and learn about science in the broadest scale possible. He didn't have to do this. But he did. years later, the first DVD collection that I got was Cosmos. Thirty-two years after it first aired, the series remains compelling and fascinating still.
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