Dedication of the Carl Sagan Center
By Leslie Mullen
NASA Astrobiology Institute
November 26, 2001
On Friday, November 9, 2001, on what would have been Carl Sagan's 67th birthday, the NASA Ames Research Center dedicated the site for the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Cosmos. The cornerstone for the new Center was unveiled during the dedication ceremony.
"Carl was an incredible visionary, and now his legacy can be preserved and advanced by a 2lst century research and education laboratory committed to enhancing our understanding of life in the universe and furthering the cause of space exploration for all time," said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin.
The nature of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere are two sides of the same question - the search for who we are.
The Sagan Center will be located in the planned NASA Research Park at Moffett Field, California, adjacent to the NASA Ames Research Center. As currently planned, the project could include approximately 700,000 square feet of new construction on more than 21 acres. The Sagan Center will consist of three 30,000-square-foot laboratory modules, with the potential to add a fourth module at a later date. The Center will also house a 30,000-square-foot public gallery exhibition area and a 500-seat auditorium.
The Sagan Center will be a huge step forward toward NASA's goal of developing a world-class, shared-use research and development campus in association with academia, industry and non-profits. The Center is specifically designed to increase the interplay of scientists in fields for which there is no obvious common ground. The modular design of the planned laboratories will provide the necessary flexibility for future change and evolution.
Research at the facility will focus on the many questions facing astrobiologists about life on Earth and in the Universe. A genomics and microbiology laboratory will be used to understand the fundamental processes of living systems in a variety of different environments. A biosensors facility will work on developing devices to study the fingerprints of life, both here on Earth and on other planets. A nanotechnology laboratory will be used to develop tiny devices that mimic or replicate the processes in living systems.
"The Carl Sagan Center will provide an exceptional opportunity for leading-edge, multi-disciplinary research in support of NASA's mission to understand 'are we alone in the universe?,'" said NASA Ames Deputy Director for Research Scott Hubbard. "Scientists will conduct both basic and applied work that will further our understanding of life's origins, evolution and future."
"No honor would have meant more to Carl than this," said Ann Druyan, his wife and collaborator for 20 years. "He loved NASA, cherished his relationship with Ames, and dreamed that we, as a civilization, would turn our genius to the deep questions of life in the cosmos."
Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996) played a leading role in the American space program from its very beginning. He was a consultant and adviser to NASA beginning in the 1950s -- he briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon.
Carl was born in New York City on November 9, 1934. He described himself as a childhood science fiction addict who became fascinated by astronomy when he learned that every star in the night sky was a distant Sun. He was always encouraged by his parents to research answers to his innumerable questions about science. His scientific curiosity led him to earn four degrees in physics, astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Chicago.
"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere."
In his role as a visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., Carl helped design and manage the Mariner 2 mission to Venus, the Mariner 9 and Viking 1 and Viking 2 trips to Mars; the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 missions to the outer solar system and the Galileo mission to Jupiter. Carl's research helped to solve the mysteries of the high temperature of Venus (a massive greenhouse effect), the seasonal changes on Mars (windblown dust) and the reddish haze of Titan (complex organic molecules).
Carl was often described as "the scientist who made the Universe clearer to the ordinary person." He helped to popularize science through the writing of hundreds of articles and over two dozen books. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his book "The Dragons of Eden." His television series "Cosmos" was one of the most watched shows in public television history. It was seen by more than 500 million people in 60 different countries.
Carl taught and conducted research at Harvard University. In 1968, Carl became a professor at Cornell University where he was also the director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. He was well known as a pioneer in the field of exobiology, which is the study of the possibility of extraterrestrial life. He was among the first to determine that life could have existed on Mars. And he constantly appealed to NASA to extend its exploration of the Universe.
With Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray, Carl founded The Planetary Society, a public membership organization, in 1980 which inspires, informs, and involves the public in the wonders of space exploration. The organization is also instrumental in influencing government decisions regarding spaceflight funding through its grassroots campaigns.
"Carl was one of the greatest intellects behind the genesis of space exploration generally and specifically the Galileo mission," said Dr. Torrence Johnson, a Galileo mission team member. "He was part of the original group that got together to promote the mission to NASA and he served as an interdisciplinary scientists on the mission team from the beginning. He was a great human being who shared with everyone his excitement about the exploration of the Universe."
Carl suffered from a rare bone marrow disease called myelodysplasia. Complications from this disease caused the pneumonia which ended his life on December 20, 1996. He was 62.