Today is Carl Sagan‘s 75th birthday.
I can think of no single person in my lifetime (40 years) who has done more for advancing critical thinking and the popularity of science education than Carl Sagan. He saw beauty and majesty in the cosmos and communicated his excitement about and fascination with the natural world eloquently.
When his PBS series, Cosmos, aired in the early 1980s, I was living in the same town as Sagan and his family — Ithaca, New York. His son was in my grade and went to the middle school down the road from mine. This made him seem like a neighbor to me who I watched on TV. I never actually met the man, but his influence on me and my world outlook was profound, from that TV show and book (I still have the copy I bought in Ithaca in ’82) to his skeptical masterpiece, The Demon Haunted World, which I plan to pick and up start reading again tonight in honor of his birthday.
Sagan co-founded The Planetary Society and The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (he is responsible for the famous line, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”). He was also instrumental in getting the Search for Extra Terrestrial Life taken seriously as a scientific endeavor.
This list just scratches the surface of his impact as a scientist and educator. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of his books (Contact is actually really good SF, but I recommend one of his non fiction books) and spend a few billion years with Sagan. You’ll be glad you did.