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Dawkins on Sagan

This tribute appeared alongside others in the March/April 1997 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, whose current issue features a picture of Dr. Sagan on the cover.
In my review for The Times of London, of The Demon-Haunted World, I mentioned a chapter heading of Carl Sagan's Cosmos: "Who Speaks for Earth?". I went on that it was "a rhetorical question that expects no particular answer, but I presume to give it one. My candidate for planetary ambassador, my own nominee to present our credentials in galactic chancelleries, can be none other than Carl Sagan himself. He is wise, humane, polymathic, gentle, witty, well-read, and incapable of composing a dull sentence." In the Financial Times this year, I described him as "a beacon of clear light in a dark world of alien abductions and 'real-life X-files', of psychic charlatans and New Age airheads, of fatcat astrologers giggling all the way to the millennium." I met him only once, so my feeling of desolation and loss at his death is based entirely on his writings. Carl Sagan was one of the great literary stylists of our age, and he did it by giving proper weight to the poetry of science. It is hard to think of anyone whom our planet can so ill afford to lose.

- Richard Dawkins

Letter to Carl Sagan

I came across a post yesterday which I wanted to call attention to. It's a perfect example of how Dr. Sagan inspired people to pursue science professionally. Who knows how many careers out there were spurred on by Carl's charisma and passion. Here's an excerpt from My Letter to Carl Sagan by Dr. Mark S. Petrovic:
Sometime in the mid 70s while I was in secondary school, I determined that I should write to Dr. Sagan and ask him what should be my approach if I wanted to become an astronomer, which was my goal at the time. How I found his Cornell address is slightly mysterious, as this was pre-Internet, pre-cable, and, even, pre-microwave oven. My guess is that I found it at the library. Ithaca can’t be that big, in hindsight, and he was likely one of the most well-known people in town. Nothing more than “Prof. Carl Sagan, Ithaca, NY” probably would have worked on the envelope.

So I wrote my letter, and lo, some weeks, later, a reply came. Carl Sagan had personally taken the time to respond to my inquiry. I am still honored, and humbled, by this. And I have that letter in my files, along with a signed photo of him. Therein he suggested that if I wanted to study the stars, I should take a course of study consisting of math and physics. Which I did.
Originally published to the author's blog, radioAe6rt, on December 16, 2006.

When Carl Sagan Died, an Encore.

I was a geology major in college, and probably would have majored in astronomy had my college offered it. I also did graduate work in planetariums, and almost made that a career, but in the end, music won out.

Carl was a light in the darkness for me as he was for so many.

I wrote the song after seeing Ann Druyan interviewed on Charlie Rose. This was just after Contact had come out, and shortly after he had died. Charlie and Ann were talking about Carl and the movie, and her sadness was palpable. I could see on her face how deeply she missed him. My heart went out to her and I wanted to offer her some kind of comfort.

From their writings, I knew how they both felt about life after death (not likely!), but I thought, why not at least be open to the idea? So that's where the song comes from.

Thanks again, and great job on the site. I'll spread the word in my newsletter.



by Greg Tamblyn

When Carl Sagan died I felt surprising sadness
For someone I’d admired from afar
I found that he’d inspired me to think in new dimensions
And I shared his sense of wonder at the stars

I saw him first in college, late night on Johnny Carson
His enthusiasm was contagious
I thought he had a great mind and I loved his sense of humor
And Cosmos was a show for all the ages

Now I am trained in science too, a geology degree
I love astronomical ideas
When time and space are measured in billions and billions
And I can’t pass up a good science museum

I saw his wife Ann Druyan on TV, she seemed so sad
They both felt death is final and forever
It must be so difficult living while believing
They’ll never ever once more be together

I also felt God and the afterlife an empty notion
Till I read the words of mystics down through time
Their accounts of higher consciousness were somehow familiar
And lifted me to thoughts new and sublime

Like this notion that the impulse of creation springs from love
Is it only wishful thinking on my part
That you and I are waves that will return to some great ocean
And while here we are connected at the heart

So nowadays I’m thinking that it’s possible, it could be
That consciousness lives on in unknown ways
Maybe we move on to higher planes and new existence
Or even live again with some new face

So I want to tell his wife Ann I wish I could give her comfort
I think Carl’s spirit still lives on
Oh wouldn’t it be something if when her time here is over
There was Carl saying, “Hi Hon, I was wrong”

© 1999 Ramblin’ Tamblyn Music, BMI

To read more about Greg and his music please visit his website

You can listen to this song in the Sounds of Sagan, or you can purchase the CD here.

Sagan Memorial Station.

After landing on Mars on July 4, 1997, the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft underwent a name change. Responsible for bringing the robot rover, Sojourner, to the red planet, the now stationary Pathfinder would heretofore be called the Sagan Memorial Station. Serving as a hub for the one-foot-tall rover, Sagan Memorial Station can be seen in this photograph from Mars.

Check out this image for a glimpse of the little Sojourner at work.

Thanks to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.