Whilst perusing MSN this morning, I saw a brief article about a blog-a-thon dedicated to Carl Sagan in honor of the ten year anniversary of his death in December 1996. As a small child I was fascinated by space. I can recall borrowing Sagan's book Cosmos from the library when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Not that I read it cover to cover, or that I recall anything I read over 20 years ago, but I remember my young imagination being so captivated by his ideas, and the idea of his ideas.
Since his death, humanity has been blessed with the gorgeous images returned to Earth by the Hubble telescope. In a related article on MSN, Sagan's widow and Cosmos collaborator Ann Druyan talks about how Sagan would have adored those images. Truly, the Hubble telescope is one of the great human achievements of all time, considering what those pictures from deep space have revealed, both scientifically and aesthetically. The photographer in me gets lost in those pictures every time I see them, but they also appeal to the small child still trying to make sense of the universe.
I also recall how embattled the Hubble telescope was, particularly in the early days when the calculations were off and the first images returned were fuzzy. It was too expensive, too grandiose. But now, many years and countless pictures later, it's hard to imagine not having those photographs of nebulae or stellar nurseries in all that riotous color.
I can't help but think that people like Carl Sagan contributed to the popular understanding of and passion for exploring the universe. Speaking strictly from the point of view of an artist and educator (I'll let others debate the science), I feel a debt of gratitude to Sagan. If nothing else, his work sparked my imagination as a child, and I have devoured imagery from space ever since. But his ability to reach out and capture the imaginations of others, through television and books, sparked countless other ideas and passions as well.
Like the universe, the effects of such a man's work are vast, infinite, and largely unknowable.