This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember
with the VOA Special English program Explorations. Today we tell about American
scientist Carl Sagan. He spent much of his life helping make space travel
possible far out in the universe. He also helped people understand science.
The year is nineteen
forty-seven. Twelve-year-old Carl Sagan is standing outside a small house in
the eastern city of Brooklyn, New York. It is dark. He is looking up at the
sky. After a few minutes, he finds the spot for which he has been searching. It
is a light red color in the night sky. Carl is looking at the planet Mars.
Carl has just finished
reading a book by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is the story of a
man who travels from Earth to the planet Mars. He meets many strange and
interesting creatures there. Some of them are very human. The name of the book
is “The Princess of Mars.” It is just one of many books that Mister Burroughs wrote
about travels to Mars.
In “The Princess of Mars,”
the man who travels to Mars can make the trip by looking at the planet for
several minutes. He then is transported there by a strange force.
Carl Sagan stands watching
the red planet. He wishes he could travel across the dark, cold distance of
space to the planet Mars. After a while, young Carl realizes this will not
happen. He turns to enter his home. But in his mind he says, "Some day. .
. Some day it will be possible to travel to Mars. "
Carl Sagan never had the
chance to go to Mars. He died in December, nineteen ninety-six. However, much
of the work he did during his life helped make it possible for the American
Pathfinder vehicle to land on Mars. It landed on July fourth, nineteen
ninety-seven. It soon began sending back to Earth lots of information and thousands
of pictures about the red planet.
Carl Sagan's friends and
family say he would have been extremely happy about the new information from
Mars. They say he would have told as many people as possible about what
Pathfinder helped us learn.
Carl Sagan was a
scientist. He was also a great teacher. He helped explain extremely difficult
scientific ideas to millions of people in a way that made it easy to
understand. He made difficult science sound like fun.
Carl Sagan was born in
Brooklyn, New York in nineteen thirty-four. Even as a child he wanted to be a
scientist. He said it was a child's science book about stars that helped him
decide to be a scientist.
Mister Sagan said he read
a book that told how our sun is a star that is very close to Earth. The book
also said that the stars in the night sky were also suns but very far away.
Mister Sagan said that suddenly, this simple idea made the universe become much
larger than just Brooklyn, New York.
It should be no surprise
to learn that Carl Sagan studied the stars and planets when he grew older. He
did this at the University of Chicago. Later he taught astronomy at Harvard
University and Cornell University.
In the nineteen fifties,
Mister Sagan helped design mechanical devices for use on some of the first
He also published two
important scientific theories that were later confirmed by space flights. One
theory was that Venus is extremely hot. The other was that Mars did not have a
season when plants grew as scientists had believed. He said that the dark areas
on Mars that were thought to be plants were really giant dust storms in the
Mister Sagan was deeply
involved in American efforts to explore the planets in our solar system. He was
a member of the team that worked on the voyage of Mariner Nine to Mars. It was
launched in nineteen seventy-one. Mariner Nine was the first space vehicle to
orbit another planet.
Mister Sagan helped choose
the landing area for Viking One and Viking Two, the first space vehicles to
successfully land on Mars. He also worked on Pioneer Two, the first space
vehicle to investigate the planet Jupiter. And he worked on Pioneer Eleven,
which flew past Jupiter and Saturn.
Carl Sagan was a member of
the scientific team that sent the Voyager One and Voyager Two space vehicles
out of our solar system. He proposed the idea to put a message on the Voyager,
on the chance that other beings will find the space vehicles in the distant
Mister Sagan worked for
many months on what to say in the message. It was an extremely difficult task.
When the Voyager space vehicles left our solar system they carried messages
that included greetings from people in many languages. They carried the sound
of huge whales in our oceans. And they carried the sound of ninety
minutes of many different kinds of music from people around the world. Carl
Sagan had created a greeting from the planet Earth.
Carl Sagan was an
extremely successful scientist and university professor. He was also a
successful writer. He wrote more than six hundred scientific and popular papers
during his life. And he wrote more than twelve books. In nineteen
seventy-eight, he won the Pulitzer Prize for one of them. It is called “The
Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence.” He even
helped write a work of science fiction in the nineteen eighties. The book is called
“Contact.” It is about the first meeting between beings from another world and
the people of Earth. It was made into a popular movie.
Perhaps Carl Sagan may
best be remembered for his many appearances on television. He used television very
effectively in his efforts to make science popular. He first became famous in
nineteen eighty when he appeared on a thirteen-part television series about
science. The show was called “Cosmos." It explored many scientific
subjects -- from the atom to the universe. It was seen by four hundred million
people in sixty countries. Mister Sagan wrote a popular book based on his
Millions of people saw
Carl Sagan on television in the nineteen seventies and nineteen eighties. He especially
liked to talk about science and scientific discoveries on the late night
television program "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." Mister
Sagan said he always tried to accept invitations to “The Tonight Show” because
about ten million people watched it, people who were not usually interested in
On television, Mister
Sagan was a good storyteller. He was able to explain
complex scientific ideas in simple ways. He believed that increasing public
excitement about science is a good way to get more public supporters. He said
much of the money for science and scientific studies comes from the public, and
people should know how their money is being spent.
Some scientists criticized
Carl Sagan because of his many appearances on television. They said he was not
being serious enough about science. They said he was spending too much time
appearing on television trying to make science popular.
Other scientists valued
his efforts to explain science. They said he communicated his message with joy
One of Carl Sagan's last
books is called “The Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human in Space.” Mister
Sagan said he got the idea for the book from a picture taken by the Voyager One
space vehicle. As it passed the planet Neptune, Voyager turned its cameras back
toward the distant Earth and took a picture of the Earth as a pale blue dot.
Mister Sagan described the Earth this way:
SAGAN: "Consider again that dot. That's
here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know,
everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their
lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident
religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every
hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and
peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child,
inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every
"superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner
in the history of our species lived there -- on a mote of dust suspended in a
It has been said that astronomy is
a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better
demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our
tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one
another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've
Carl Sagan died December
twentieth, nineteen ninety-six in Seattle, Washington. He was being treated at
a medical center there for a bone marrow disease. Carl Sagan was sixty-two
This Special English
program was written by Paul Thompson and Nancy Steinbach. It was produced by
Paul Thompson and Mario Ritter.
And this is Steve Ember.
You can learn more about Carl Sagan on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.
Join us again next week for Explorations in
VOA Special English.