My Carl Sagan Story

Hey all,

Just wanted to give y’all my own Sagan Story:

One of my earlier memories involves my Dad dressing me in a kiddie blazer and taking me to a lecture by some scientist whose name I had never heard before. You can imagine the reaction this provoked in an child whose regular leisure consisted of lego toys and backyard wargames. I protested, my father insisted. I resigned myself to an afternoon staring at the ceiling of some auditorium.

But the crowd’s reaction as Dr. Sagan walked on stage – a reception more on par with a rock star than a crusty old NASA scientist – suggested I might be in for something more interesting after all. The scientist launched straight away into a discourse on extraterrestrial life. The talk ranged from UFOs and their portrayal in Hollywood to the size of the universe and Drake equations with the lifetime of civilizations… I sat statue-still for two hours as he showed us the span of the universe on a projection screen.

During the question session a woman from the audience challenged him: “How can you look at a rainbow and not believe there’s a God?” to which he replied, “Rainbows occur because of a refraction of light.” He then continued with a more nuanced response, but the message was clear: our reverence should be foremost for intellectual integrity and rational experiment. Powerful ideas to hit the impressionable mind of an elementary school student.

These days I’m a PhD student studying autonomous robotic astrobiology – a.k.a. the search for life on other planets. I suspect that I owe my career choice to a conspiracy between my father and Carl Sagan.

-David Thompson