Carl Edward Sagan was born in 1934 in Brooklyn, New York. From a very early age, he showed strong interest in astronomy, and he remembered visiting the library for astronomy books when he was as young as five years old!
When his parents brought him to the World’s Fair in New York, he became very interested in the depictions of futuristic technology and advancements.
Additionally, he loved reading science fiction stories that had become widely popular at the time.
In 1951, Sagan was just 16 years old when he completed his high school education and became a student at the University of Chicago. Many of the experiments he worked on at the university facilitated his interest in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
At age 20 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics, and earned his master’s degree the next year.
He went on to earn a doctoral degree in astronomy and astrophysics, after which he accepted a position as a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
During his astronomy fellowship at UC Berkeley, he and other researchers in his team developed a sensor to measure infrared radiation, to be added to the Mariner 2 probe for the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Following his UC Berkeley fellowship, Sagan began working at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Observatory to study the physical aspects of various planets, Venus and Jupiter specifically.
In 1968, Sagan was appointed the director of Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, where he soon earned the title of professor as well.
He also continued working with NASA, assisting with the development and data collection of Mars probes.
In the seventies and eighties, he published a host of books on astrophysics and the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life.
These works include The Cosmic Connection, Other Worlds, The Dragons of Eden, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and Contact, which was made into a popular movie.
Sagan was also a co-founder of the Planetary Society in 1980, with the goal of broadening international space exploration. Additionally, he continued his quest to bring astronomical knowledge to the masses with a widely popular TV show Cosmos, based on a book he wrote by the same name.
Due to the popularity of his TV show and his many books, Carl Sagan became somewhat of a celebrity. He used his fame to continue his book publications and spread knowledge and interest about astrophysics and possible alien life.
Additional books he wrote included the Pale Blue Dot. Later, he also helped write a politically charged book, The Cold and the Dark: The World after Nuclear War, in clear opposition to the development of nuclear weapons.
For his research, Sagan earned several awards, including a Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA, one in 1977 and one in 1981.
He also earned the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1994, including many others.
Later Years and Death
Carl Sagan died at age 62 of complications from a bone marrow disease in 1996.
His legacy lives on in his many still-popular books, and in the TV show Cosmos, which came back to TV after his death with famous astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson as the host.