A Peek Inside Astronomer Carl Sagan's Mind

Originally published on June 27, 2012 7:53 pm
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The astronomer Carl Sagan made it his life's work to engage the public in the world of science and space exploration.


DR. CARL SAGAN: The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us.

CORNISH: His PBS show, "Cosmos," his books, his research, and work with NASA made Sagan a star by the time of his death in 1996. Now, nearly 800 boxes of Sagan's personal papers have been donated to the Library of Congress, which is establishing an archive of his work.

Carl Sagan's longtime collaborator and widow, Ann Druyan, joins us now from Ithaca, New York, to talk more about it.

Hi there, Ms. Druyan.

ANN DRUYAN: Hi, Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: To begin, tell us about this collection. What are some of the remarkable things that are in it?

DRUYAN: Well, one of the things that's so remarkable about it is it's so comprehensive. It begins with his mother's obstetrical reports about her pregnancy, it includes his birth announcement, his report cards, some 600 scientific-refereed papers that he either wrote or co-authored; all those manuscripts.

It's just kind of a compendium of the first 40 years of the space age. Carl was involved in every NASA mission of exploration from the dawn of the space age till the very end of his life.

CORNISH: Were there any items that surprised you that he kept?

DRUYAN: The most surprising thing to me is this tattered drawing done by an 11-year-old boy lying on the rug in a working class apartment in Brooklyn, a walk up. And it was Carl's dream in the 1940s of how the future of space exploration would unfold.

He was imagining, you know, how in the 1950s we would begin to go to the Moon and to Mars and beyond. And it was kind of a travel poster, enlistment poster for an interstellar travel line.

CORNISH: You've talked about some of the personal items that were in the collection. But are there sort of unfinished science notes and research that you think people could get something out of, as well?

DRUYAN: Yes. Carl's methodology was to sit with two small dictating recorders, day and night. And every time he would have an idea or we would have an idea together, he would dictate them into one of these machines. And there was this kind of a tiny army of transcribers who would come back every day with the output neatly typed on paper. And in these archives there is just a huge volume of ideas.

So, it would not surprise me at all if, you know, these were kind of the seedlings of new research and new questions to be asked in the future.

CORNISH: So, Ann, explain the transfer of all of this to the Library of Congress. 'Cause I understand Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the TV show "Family Guy," is helping to make it possible.

DRUYAN: It was in fact a donation by Seth so that it could be acquired and transferred from my possession. And Seth was instrumental in making it possible for the library to acquire the papers, but also for us to bring a new "Cosmos" television series to the broadest possible public on the Fox Television Network.

CORNISH: Ann Druyan, thank you so much for talking with us.

DRUYAN: Thank you. It's been my pleasure, Audie. I hope we speak again.

CORNISH: Ann Druyan, co-author, collaborator, and widow of the late Carl Sagan. She's currently at work on a new Fox series, a follow-up to Sagan's "Cosmos." She spoke to us about the Carl Sagan Papers, which have just been acquired by the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.