Saturday, January 11, 2014

For Carl

Happy New Year all! I’ve been gone for a bit but that hiatus is now officially over!
So where do I start in this brand spanking new 2014? Why with a look back of course.
As a child, young man and dad, I was always fascinated by speculative fiction, known to most of you as SCI-FI. The Outer Limits. Twilight Zone, Adventures Of Superman and of course Star Trek were all sources of wonder for me…
Science Fiction novels and short stories were considered a separate, and not quite legit form of literature. But authors like Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury regularly took me to far off worlds of ideas and adventure.
Oh and comic books too…Mystery In Space, Strange Adventures, Challengers of The Unknown and The Fantastic Four were firmly entrenched in the realm of Science Fiction.

There was not quite as much speculative fiction in the 60’s and 70’s as there is today but it was rich and inspiring.

And then there was real life!

We had Mercury, Gemini and Apollo! Man on the Moon!!!

There was Voyager and Mariner and a Space Shuttle program…

The prototype was fittingly named “Enterprise”…

We were all looking forward…and we had a guide.

His name was Carl Sagan.

Carl was one of the great minds of the last half of the twentieth century. He was a key member of the development teams for the Mariner and Voyager Programs. Carl was also:

• Was one of the first scientists to warn of Global Warming likening it to Venus’ atmospheric conditions, of extreme heat due to a greenhouse effect that he, himself had discovered.
• Theorized the existence of water oceans on Jupiter’s moon Europa. This was later confirmed.
• Proved the existence of organic matter throughout the Solar System.
• Pioneered SETI, The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

And then there was the 1980 PBS TV Mini Series…Cosmos. The complete title, which most people tend to forget, was “Cosmos –A Personal Voyage”.

A Personal Voyage…

It certainly was for me and for millions of others who went along for the ride on Carl’s Starship Of The Imagination. In it, for thirteen episodes, Dr. Sagan took viewers on a trip through time and space. We examined the origins of the Universe and our own Origins. We explored the ancient library of Alexandria and glimpsed a possible future where technology outstripped our wisdom.
We learned that mankind occupies only the last minute of the last day of December on the Cosmic Calendar…we just got here.
And we also learned from Carl that…”we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself”.

For all of his intellect and accomplishments, Sagan still possessed a great sense of wonder that was childlike and infectious. He was always looking around the next corner , or over the next hill…and he made us want to look too.

Carl was absolutely certain that life was not only possible outside the confines of out planet, but that the Cosmos was absolutely teeming with life. In recent years there have been clues that Carl was right. Although SETI has yet to discover a signal from a technological civilization, we have only been scanning for a few decades with limited technology…and as someone once observed, “It’s a big ass sky”.

Carl once observed that we have only dipped our toes in the shores of the cosmic ocean and that the water seems inviting.
Even the TITLES of the episodes were filled with wonder:

"The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean"
"One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue"
“The Edge Of Forever”
“Who Speaks For Earth?”

Titles filled with promise, curiosity and wonder.

Cosmos was Science…but not fiction. It was the philosophy of science and a cautionary tale.
Today , some thirty plus years after it’s production, much of the science in Cosmos has been updated. But the wonder remains and keeps it fresh.

In fact Cosmos, so resonates in the popular imagination that a sequel series Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey is set to make it’s debut this year. It will be hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and is co produced by Carl’s widow Ann Druyan and Seth Macfarlane (yes THAT Seth MacFarlane).

I suspect that this new Cosmos will also be filled with Carl’s sense wonder as we collectively dip some more toes into the cosmic ocean.

That’s 30.