Whatever the reason you’re on Mars, I’m glad you’re there, and I wish I was with you

(a somewhat belated entry to the Carl Sagan blog-a-thon)

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I have a vivid memory of the first time I saw Carl Sagan on television and it wasn’t Johnny Carson or Cosmos. It was during the 1971 Mariner 9 mission to Mars. A planet-wide dust storm was obscuring all the surface features which left everyone sitting around killing time while waiting for the dust to settle. Sagan was being interviewed about what the orbiter might see and he was asked about Percival Lowell, the Martian canals (sorry, “canale”), and Martian War Of The Worlds. Sagan took the guy’s question seriously and without any condescension offered that while there didn’t seem to be any Martians or water in the traditional 19th century sense, there could have been in the past. He added that if Martian climate could change dramatically, then Earth’s climate could change just as radically. Either way, further study is important because there’s only one Earth.

Heady stuff for a six year old, but he made it interesting and (most important) extraordinarily cool.

A couple years later there was a Cornell alumni event (both my parents are from Ithaca and my dad was a Cornell grad) in Los Angeles with Sagan and he talked about the then-recent Viking landings and what the ambiguous biological experiment readings meant – emphasizing that science shouldn’t allow itself to be tunnel-visioned into one particular belief while it’s trying to figure things out. A theme that runs constant through his subsequent writing.

I got to meet him afterward and he gave me a stack of Mars photos that he used in the presentation and autographed one to me. Thirty years later, I’m still kicking myself for losing track of it though it’s probably Out There Somewhere. I remember exactly what picture it was and what he wrote on it:

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“To Chris – Hope you get to visit here. — Carl Sagan”

5 Replies to “Whatever the reason you’re on Mars, I’m glad you’re there, and I wish I was with you”

  1. I’ve just recently seen all the old Cosmos episodes. Carl Sagan was an incredible man and an inspiration to generations. I wish I could have met him. It’s been 10 years since Carl passed away, and I feel such a tremendous loss, even today. Tremendous. Thanks for your post, Chris.

  2. hello.

    Im a scientist working for NASA but im living in Iceland.I cant get enough of picture’s of mars.I think the thought of someone getting up there is amazing.I think that there is life up there.The guys who got the “viking” up there said they found lakes and patches of water and where there’s water there’s life!!!!

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