The life of Carl Sagan now fills the tabletops of two vast rooms in the Library of Congress. The life arrived in recent weeks at the building’s loading dock on 41 pallets containing 798 boxes. Sagan famously talked about billions of stars and billions of galaxies, and it appears that he saved roughly that many pieces of paper. The material documents Sagan’s energetic career as an astronomer, author, unrivaled popularizer of science and TV star, and it ranges from childhood report cards to college term papers to eloquent letters written just before his untimely death in 1996 at age 62. Also in the mix are files labeled F/C, for “fissured ceramics,” Sagan’s code name for letters from crackpots. And there’s this, from Johnny Carson, after Sagan declared that he’d never actually used the much-satirized phrase “billions and billions” on “The Tonight Show”: “Even if you didn’t say ‘billions and billions’ you should have. — Johnny.” For years, Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, carefully preserved her husband’s archive in Ithaca, N.Y., hoping to find an appropriate repository. The Library of Congress, which owns the papers of such luminaries as Alexander Graham Bell, J. Robert Oppenheimer, E.O. Wilson and Margaret Mead, had long been interested. Then astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson introduced Seth MacFarlane, creator of TV’s “Family Guy,” to Druyan when Tyson and Druyan were developing a remake of the enormously popular 1980 PBS series “Cosmos” that made Sagan famous. In the process of backing the new “Cosmos,” MacFarlane provided an undisclosed sum of money to the Library of Congress to buy the archive from Druyan. The organization of the archive is expected to be completed by November 2013, at which point the material will be open to researchers. “He was practically the face of science in this country for a long, long time,” said Leonard Bruno, a historian of science. “He made science cool.”
Names in the news, June 28
Posted June 27, 2012, at 5:59 p.m.