1980: With 'Cosmos,' Carl Sagan Makes A PBS Blockbuster

By | September 24, 2020

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Astrophysicist Carl Sagan poses before a Florida State University Distinguished Lecture Series speech. The original background of the image has been replaced by a NASA photo of the Cosmos. (Photo by Mickey Adair/ Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images)

With its 13 episodes, the 1980 PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted by Carl Sagan, gave audiences a chance to look into the unknown, to dream of discoveries big and small. The show covered everything from the dawn of life on Earth to the possibilities that we're not alone on some rock in outer space. Moreover, it brought in hundreds of millions of viewers and it won a Peabody Award. This was highly entertaining educational programming for families who didn't have the economic resources of their peers. More than any other educational program, Cosmos inspired young people to follow their scientific dreams.

Carl Sagan did it all

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source: popular science

More than an astronomer, cosmologist, and astrophysicist, Carl Sagan was someone who knew how to explain extremely complex concepts to people who didn't have his knowledge base. One of his pet projects was working with SETI, a nonprofit research organization that searches for the existence of extraterrestrial life. As deeply ingrained in the world of concrete Earth science as he was, Sagan fervently believed in life among the stars. Unlike many believers in extraterrestrials Sagan never jumped to conclusions about alien life. Instead, he opted to make up his mind with the use of cold, hard facts.

A bit of a scientific journeyman, Sagan taught at Cornell and Harvard, but he also acted as an advisor to NASA from the infancy of their space program. Because he was so deeply embedded with the Apollo program he was asked to assemble the first physical message to be sent to space in the guise of a gold-plated plaque. He continued to create new designs to send to stars and peaked with the Voyager Golden Record that was sent out in 1977, it contained the sights and sounds of Earth, showing the diversity of life and culture on the planet.