I get so tired of cynicism, even in myself. It’s so easy to say that we’re going to, as a species, kill ourselves off, destroy the world, all of that, and I’ll admit that I subscribe to that view myself sometimes when I run into the truly stupid members of our species. That’s why, when I discovered Carl Sagan, a man who was absolutely brilliant and so obviously hopeful for us… it warmed the baseball-glove-sized radiator that I use for a heart.
Carl Sagan is not an “Obscure” Hero of History: he’s really quite famous, and you’ve probably heard of him. Remember the movie “Contact” that came out in the mid-90′s with Jody Foster? He wrote that screenplay and book. But aside from that, he’s one of the most vocal and easily recognizable astronomers/scientists of the late 20th century.
He did a TV series for PBS in the late 70′s called Cosmos, which had the amazing distinction of succinctly explaining just about everything modern science knew about the Universe in 13 1-hour-long episodes, and doing so in a way that a regular person could understand. You can watch them here, for free, on Hulu; I’m a couple episodes into it, and it’s amazing so far.
The way he talks about us, with a bright-eyed hope and belief that, not only can we explore our world and the space outside it, we deserve to, because we’re the first creatures on Earth to wonder what’s out there. The series is interspersed with segments of Sagan on a space ship that looks like a dandelion seed, flying through space and observing distant galaxies and phenomena, with a childish look of glee on his face. That’s the image I’ll remember of him, no matter where I go: child-like wonder backed by understanding and a desire to learn about the Universe around him.
He designed a pair of plaques that were sent out of the solar system on Pioneer 10 and 11, the first craft made by man to do so. If they get picked up by aliens, which even the Catholic Church is willing to admit could possibly exist (y’know, maybe), these plaques will be their first introduction to humanity. They also pretty much provide a map on how to get back here, so here’s hoping that they’s friendly aliens, and not the anal-probing, War of the Worlds kind.
Regardless, this guy is just about single-handedly responsible for educating most of the public about the universe we live in. For that, he is one of my Top Ten favorite Heroes of History, right behind Walt Disney and Teddy Roosevelt and about even with Nikola Tesla.
Carl Sagan. Check him out.