The Naked Scientists Forum
On the Lighter Side
Famous Scientists, Doctors and Inventors
Biography of Carl Sagan
Biography of Carl Sagan
0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
Biography of Carl Sagan
20/11/2007 03:08:30 »
The Influence of Carl Sagan (1934-1996) on the popularity of space exploration - from
By the 1960s the cold war produced a fear of science, eugenics and nuclear warfare were shown to be tools of destruction. The Vietnam War, for all its technological advantages, was going badly and science did not seem to offer hope for mankind. One problem was that the majority were happy to give power to those in authority assuming that they would do the best by the new technology. They assumed it would be too difficult for them to understand and science journalism, unlike science fiction, was sparse and mostly performed by journalists with little or no scientific background. Science was perceived as minimising the need for religion but it did not fill the spiritual void in people that this left. The rate of direct or indirect space exploration rose to a level in the 1960s and 1970s which had not been possible before, but after the cold war ended and with it the lunar landings, public enthusiasm for the project decreased.
This was to change with Carl Sagan. His poetic writing showed the universe to be an exciting place, he sold space exploration as a cause, as a saviour of mankind that everyone could understand. This awe was articulated later by a fan who proclaimed to Sagan 'you made me realise I was a part of the fabric of nature, part of the universe, a feeling I yearned to have in church but never did.' (Druyan, A. 1997, page 165).
Sagan presented the universe as being so beautiful and exciting that there would be no need for pseudoscience or dogmatic religion to fill people's need to believe in something extraordinary. Sagan was not the first to do this but he was the most important populariser of space science during a critical period of exploration as it developed from the 1960s onwards. His popularisation had a direct affect on NASA's expenditure since publicly funded projects tend to be given more funding if the project is supported by the public. It is impossible to know how our exploration of the solar system and deep space would have evolved without Sagan's popularisation of space exploration. However as I will show, without his influence it is possible that the universe would not have been explored as thoroughly as it has been by now.
The beginning of Sagan's science popularisation.
Sagan began writing to scientific journals in his late teens and whilst still an undergraduate was mentioned in an article suggesting organisms could exist on Mars . This evoked anger in faculty members who were perhaps jealous and perhaps felt that real science had no need for speculation of this sort. This foreshadowed the backlash that was to come, cumulating with Sagan's rejection by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1992. The NAS are an organisation which uses experts to advise the government and the public in important scientific issues. Membership was therefore an important loss to him as NAS would have been an obvious tool to use to educate the public and provoke change .
In the late 1950s as a student he organised a lecture series on campus in Chicago which decades later he compared to the series Cosmos (Davidson, K. 1999, page 79). He presented planets in a new paradigm, showing them as physical places to be explored rather than points of light in the sky. This was something he would repeat whilst on The Tonight Show to an audience of over 500 million (Broad, W.J. 1998). In the tradition of utopian science fiction he saw the new planetary exploration as akin to the European explorers of the 16th century going to new places in the spirit of adventure, discovering new lands and perhaps new wildlife. This was reflected in the logo for the Planetary Society which he formed with Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman in 1980, which incorporates a sailing ship with images of the stars.
This paradigm would cumulate with Sagan's 1966 book 'The Planets', which toured the solar system explaining the reasons for visiting each and citing Shklovskii's theory that there could be 'libraries and museums' on Mars's moon Phobos (Sagan, C. 1976, page 139). 'The Planets' was popular enough to make the Time-Life series of popular science books and lead to further opportunities to promote planetary exploration.
As a post graduate student in California Sagan involved himself in three experiments which would later feature in his writing and influenced his most powerful arguments for planetary exploration. Those were the Mariner 2 space probe to Venus, which occurred in 1962, and the Stratoscope balloon project and NASA's origin of life experiments both in 1960. During his work on these projects he wrote scientific articles on them, gave speeches and begun to be quoted by the media. His first success with a mainstream science journal came with 'The Planet Venus' in Science in 1961 (Sagan, C. 1961 page 849). It was received as an imaginative piece and stimulating in a way that his later work would build on, creating a desire in the reader to know more (Ípik, E. 1961, page 2818). In that same year his greenhouse model of Venus, along with the suggestion of 'terraforming' it, a term he borrowed from Jack Williams' science fiction of the 1940's, made it into the New York Times and Newsweek (Davidson, K 1999, page 116). His views earned him a place at the Green Bank convention which became the first Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) meeting. SETI. became a passion of Sagan's which he exploited to stress the importance of space exploration (Zuckerman, B. 1981, page 10).
How Sagan influenced the public.
Sagan popularised space exploration by appealing to those who may have not have had a pre-existing interest in science. He helped cross a cultural divide by becoming actively involved in the civil rights movement, when in 1963 he travelled to Alabama to march, and in 1965 he lectured at Tuskegee Institute, a predominantly black college (Davidson, K. 1999, page 193). This popularised planetary science and exploration to a great number of people who would have had no active interest in what was seen as a patriotic, white, all-American pursuit.
Sagan spoke out against the Vietnam War and enjoyed marijuana claiming it increased his creativity. He likened marijuana use to Plato's simile of the Cave as many others had before (Davidson, K 1999, page 214). This image contrasted with the white-middle-class-male role that was associated with the clean cut short haired patriotic astronauts. Sagan offered something which could reach a much wider audience. His often controversial views, and the way that they were presented as to invoke awe and aspiration in people, allowed him to appeal to the 60s generation. Science no longer had to be a stuffy authoritarian or the force behind atrocities such as nuclear weapons and napalm. Science offered hope, excitement and a purpose. It opened up to a whole new generation with Carl Sagan as the leading force behind it.
An example of Sagan's popularisation methods could be seen when Mariner 4 came back with photos showing the 'dead' surface of Mars. Sagan fought to keep interest alive by involving himself in the media, once again using an article in the New York Times to express his views. He showed with clarity that this did not mean there was not life on Mars by juxtaposing the images with photographs showing a 'dead' Earth at such a distance. People with no understanding of science could see that Mars could still have the possibility of life and so people with little understanding of the other reasons for planetary missions could become enthused.
In the early 1960s Sagan repeated talks of the implications for religion, society and politics on Dave Garroway's television show when discussing detection instruments of life on Mars (Davidson, K 1999, page 181). During the 20th century for the first time in history humankind had the opportunity to enter into the heavens, this was a sacrosanct event as well as a technological one. Those without God could find their place within the heavens and for those who believed in God it was a glimpse into His mind with the uncovering of another of His creations. Those with no interest in science but with an interest in spiritual as well as physical exploration could develop an interest in the space program in a way they never could from the often misunderstood, cold hard facts of science alone.
Intentions to increase public expenditure.
NASA was freer to spend money in areas of public interest as this held more justification in the expenditure of public taxation money (Hedman, E.R. 2005). Sagan brought publicity and therefore money to the projects he was interested in. By 1965 Sagan held a $198,000 NASA grant to study 'Biochemical Actuaries of terrestrial micro organisms in simulated planetary environments' and a $134,684 two year study of exobiology.
In 1968 Sagan became editor of Icarus magazine which he had been associate editor of for quite some time. Icarus became the medium in which to present the bold conjectures Popper ascribed to good science. Sagan was of the Popperian school of science philosophy and advocated ad hoc conjectures and lack of means of falsification as a way to distinguish pseudoscience from science (Chalmers, A.F. 1999). With the possibility of falsification Sagan was not afraid to posit controversial and speculative hypothesises. Ideas which would seem too fallacious for other journals found an outlet in Icarus. This showed a more speculative side of space exploration which enthralled many readers.
This same year he helped found the American Astronomical Society's division for Planetary Sciences whose membership increased from 100 in 1970 to 1400 today. This shows the increase in public interest in space exploration (Broad, W.J. 1998).
Sagan reached celebratory status as an activist for planetary exploration in the 1970s. Media coverage of NASA plunged after the end of the manned missions and the realisation that life on the Moon was looking more and more unlikely. He envisioned selling science like the media sold products. He wanted to make planetary science and especially the Viking Missions, a cause 'so poetic it sent a shudder down the spine' (Davidson, K 1999, page 252). This would hopefully fuel public expenditure as well as public interest in the Missions.
These intentions came into effect when Jerome Agel, a producer of scholarly literature, invoked the idea of a book on the cosmos which after 17 rejections was published as 'The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective'. Sagan brought a 1960's hippy style attitude to science which manifested in him dictating the book often while high, in the style of many a famous poet or artist . The literary style was akin to prose, full of aspirational metaphors and imagery;
'There is a place with four suns in the sky - red, white, blue, and yellow:
two of them are so close together that they touch, and star-stuff flows
I know of a world with a million moons.
I know of a sun the size of the Earth - and made of diamond.
There are atomic nuclei a few miles across which rotate thirty times a second.' (Sagan, C. 1973, page 51).
This book gave three chapters to the necessity and the benefits of planetary exploration and was championed by Time magazine, Sky and Telescope and Patrick Moore amongst others (Davidson, K 1999, page 257). New Scientist enunciated that 'if aliens come tomorrow and ask for our leader, we shall take them to this man.'(Ridpath, I. 1974, page 36.)
Sagan made a number of television appearances to promote the now very successful book the greatest of all being on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. His manner of speech, which was later impersonated, and his youth, looks and attitude as well as the fascinating way he described the planets led him to be invited back. He became the show's house astronomer and in tern became the most famous American scientist. To many distinguished scientists this was a mark of disrespect, Sagan was accused of simplifying science to bias his personal claims which were presented as the view of the scientific establishment. Other astronomers such as Robert Jastrow had previously appeared on the Tonight Show without such success and there was a touch of resentment that the voice of popular science was not that of the most gifted scientists but that of the most charismatic. Sagan discussed everything that was predominant in his articles and lectures, science, politics and religion, in the context of planetary exploration and the search for life. His presentation included huge photographs of the planets surfaces giving many people their first view of these much discussed worlds. Worlds which had before been viewed merely as specks of light became real places.
Continuing his crusade for space exploration, when NASA was refused funding for a manned mission to Mars due to inflation caused by the Vietnam War, Sagan suggested launching robotic probes. He made it his crusade to win over the public to such an idea. Carson himself was an amateur astronomer and so helped endorse the view with the public. The success of this project led to an article in TV Guide, a less prestigious magazine than science journalists are used to but with an audience of 10 millions readers an opportunity to reach the masses. He wrote of Mars as an embodiment of the spirit of adventure which had been lost in the modern world.
Publicity gained from the Voyager probes.
Just after this Sagan was profiled by Rolling Stone magazine. Sagan was now not just a scientist but a celebrity in his own right. He was not seen as an establishment figure and his views on Vietnam and nuclear warfare (Sagan, C. 1985, pages 485 - 488) meant he stood out as not representative of the government or those in authority. He was seen as not having an alternative agenda and so his views on pseudoscience carried a weight that they would not otherwise have had. His popularity lead him to a $50 000 advance for his new book 'Other Worlds' which was a thinner book and therefore appealed a wider audience than just those looking for academia (Davidson, K 1999, page 268).
Sagan was influential in including in the Viking mission a camera capable of spotting moving objects and made what were, even at the time, seen as outrageous claims about the possibility of polar bear sized animals on the surface. This kind of talk ignited the imagination of the public but scientists worried he was setting the public up for a fall and feared the backlash of such a claim with such a small chance of being proven correct. The first view of the pink Martian sky came in 1975 after a Titan Centaur rocket hurled Viking 1 into space. There was no sign of life.
Refusing to give up hope of life in the universe Sagan became involved in the Voyager records, data to be sent up with the Voyager probe in the form of records of Earth to be possibly intercepted by intelligent life. The chances of the Voyager probe being intercepted in the lifetime of mankind were extremely minimal but worked beautifully as publicity stunts as well as for their intrinsic merits, as did the Pioneer images before this. The images of the man and women on the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes provoked complaints from a number of people. Some claimed they were pornographic and others complained that they were not explicit enough showing male genitalia but not female, they were criticised as being distinctly Aryan. Sagan, a Jew and feminist, clearly did not intend this, explaining that the drawings were in the tradition of ancient Greek or Renaissance imagery akin to Leonardo de Vinci's figures. With Voyager he had the opportunity to appease those he had offended and although he was not permitted to show naked anatomical drawings for fear they would be deemed pornographic he did attempt to show a mixture of cultures. At his new wife-to-be Ann Druyan's insistence he included the music of Chuck Berry along with a number of classical composers. This inclusion of black popular culture led to increased popularity with both the black community and the younger generation.
Biography of Carl Sagan
Reply #1 on:
20/11/2007 03:08:44 »
Cosmos, S.E.T.I., and their influence on public expenditure.
Cosmos came as a direct result of the lack of media attention to the Viking missions and the scientists' lack of interest in promoting it. The 13 part series made him an instantly recognisable celebrity. Here he had a platform to extend his views to the masses. Cosmos was preceded with a large media campaign. And a few weeks in Sagan appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the 'showman of science.'
Cosmos received mixed reviews and the kind of fame that leads to spoofs and impersonation (Zogln, R.1981 page 31 and O'Connor, J. 1980). The show won a number of awards and the sequential publication of the accompanying book became a New York Times best seller for over 70 weeks. It received critical acclaim from Astronomy journal and Sky and Telescope (DeVorkin, D.H. 1981, page 536). NASA had Sagan as a saviour in its robotic space missions, proposed budget cuts were fiercely fought by him after he received requests to lobby congress on NASA's behalf.
In 1981 Sagan received a $2 million advance to write the novel Contact (McDowell, E 1981, page 16), which was subsequently turned into a moderately successful movie bringing it to the attention of those too young to remember the Cosmos series. The book was an assault on the critics of the SETI program which prophetically went on to have its funding from the government stopped just as in Sagan's novel.
'The Planetary Society' was founded, in order to begin a private SETI search by Sagan and others. It was opened in 1981 by Steven Spielberg who was persuaded to contribute $100,000 in start up funds, something which it is unlikely many other scientists could have done. This allowed the public to become actively involved in lobbying congress for funding (Burns, J.A. 1997 page 400).
Sagan's future influence.
After his death in 1996 Nature described Sagan as 'the greatest populariser of the 20th century' (Burns, J.A. 1997 page 400). His vision enchanted many of the current planetary and NASA scientists including David Goldin the administrator of NASA from 1992 until 2001. Goldin regularly consulted Sagan for advice, witnessed the Mars Pathfinder land and proposed interstellar probes an idea taken from Sagan's book 'Pale Blue Dot' (Broad, W.J. 1998).
Sagan produced a generation of successful explorers in his students. David Morrison went on to become chief scientist at the NASA Ames Research Centre in California. Steven Squires headed the NASA team designing the Mars Rover whose successors are still being built (Webster, G. 2006). Another student Christopher Chyba chaired the Europa Orbitor mission, which he proposed in 1998 as a continuum of Sagan's legacy (Broad, W.J. 1998).
The current president of the (NAS), Ralph Cicerone continues in his memory to promote space exploration. He plans to set up a long term project to popularise science lamenting the loss of its figure head (Morris, E. 2005, page 454). Other aspects of Sagan's influence can be seen in the Cosmos 1 solar sail pioneered by Lou Friedman who credits Sagan's inspiration (Reichardt, T. 2005, page 678).
It is hard to objectively judge how history would have transpired if Sagan had not existed. However it seems clear that many missions in the exploration of the solar system would not have occurred, or would have occurred at a much lower budget, had he not been there to stir public interest. No one as of yet has been able to touch upon Sagan's success for astronomy popularisation.
Biography of Carl Sagan
Reply #2 on:
21/11/2007 15:31:45 »
If you enjoy listening to carl Sagan, then this site has some interviews with him and his wife Ann