The name Carl Sagan is familiar to people who may not even know much about him, in the same way that people may know an actor’s or actress’ name without being able to identify any movies that they appeared in. The reason for this is because Carl Sagan was a bona fide scientific celebrity.
He was never content to simply write books and edit scientific journals. He always found a way to get himself in front of the camera regularly, and he was a constant part of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”. He also had a show of his own- the popular “Cosmos”. With these regular TV appearances, his name was never out of the public consciousness for too long, and that helped take his celebrity on a meteoric ascent that is still high today. Even years after his death, people know the name Carl Sagan, even those who are not involved in the scientific community.
There were other scientific celebrities of their own day, such as Leonardo DaVinci and Albert Einstein, but Carl Sagan was a celebrity for a different reason. He was known not so much for what he did but for who he was and how he presented science. He made science fun and approachable and made people feel like they could become scientists. In other words, he made it okay to think of the scientific field as something exciting and valid in a time when many people were criticized for their scientific leanings.
He just happened to come around at the time when Star Trek and Star Wars were taking off and science fiction was getting a foothold in pop culture. It was Carl Sagan who was telling millions of young children that being a science “nerd” could still land you comfortably in front of the television camera and bring worldwide recognition. His voice and his message were something that many people hadn’t heard before, which is why so many people latched onto him and his way of presenting scientific knowledge.
Carl Sagan’s celebrity is the very reason we have so many accomplished astronauts, researchers and others in the scientific community today. He’s the reason we have science celebrities like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan set the framework by which they operate and how they grow their fanbase. To think of a scientist having a fanbase had been practically unheard of before Sagan, so it’s no wonder his popular science show “Cosmos” is getting a reboot years later.
Sagan has been called irreplaceable to the scientific community, and that’s due to the way he set a foundation for others to stand on. Those who stand in front of television cameras today and enjoy the fame that comes from having a public platform from which to speak about science can thank the work that Sagan did in his lifetime and how it is making things possible for the modern scientific celebrity.