40 years of brilliant Voyager reconnaissance & humankind’s message to space

From left, Lisa Kaltenegger, Steve Squyres, Frank Drake and Ann Druyan listen to moderator Jonathan Lunine at the Oct. 19 panel discussion on the Voyager mission.

“We have a responsibility to spend money on things that enrich the human spirit.” – Steven Squyres on why we should continue to explore.

To celebrate 40 years of brilliant Voyager reconnaissance, the Carl Sagan Institute partnered with Ann Druyan, David Pescovitz, the Department of Astronomy, the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, and the College of Arts and Sciences to host “40 Years of Cosmic Discovery: Celebrating the Voyager Missions and Humanity’s Message to Space.”

The celebration was highlighted by a panel of prominent figures in the field giving their personal recollections of what Voyager meant to them, and ending with a Q&A section.  Jonathan Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, moderated the panel of radio astronomy pioneer Frank Drake ’52, chairman emeritus of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and a former Cornell professor of astronomy, joined Ann Druyan, a Peabody and Emmy award winning writer and producer, creative director of NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Message; Steve Squyres ’81, Cornell’s James A. Weeks Professor and principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission; and Lisa Kaltenegger associate professor of astronomy and director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute

Druyan, the Emmy award winning writer and producer of COSMOS: A Personal Voyage and its reboot COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey, recalled that the idea for the Voyager Golden Record and the creation of its contents occurred here in Ithaca, and that the idea of scientific curiosity being combined with music, art, and the dreams of unity portrayed on the record was the essence of her late husband, Carl Sagan.

Collaborator and panelist Frank Drake noted that “working on the Golden Record here in Ithaca turned out to be one of the most beautiful events of my life.”

The running undercurrent of the event was the life and legacy of Carl Sagan, the legendary astronomer and science communicator, who was a professor of astronomy at Cornell for almost 30 years.  Many comments included references to Sagan, his work, and his belief in science as a way to better humankind.

As director of the Carl Sagan Institute, Lisa Kaltenegger embodied this belief by saying that “scientific curiosity has always helped humankind, as the things we couldn’t even imagine trickle down into our everyday lives.”

The Carl Sagan Institute is the new name of what was formerly the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, a term Sagan commonly used to describe the miracle of our planet, often reflecting on the idea in his search for extra-terrestrial intelligence that he conducted alongside panelist Frank Drake.

Druyan, in response to a question about why we should continue to explore space, stated that “we send spacecraft because it’s something that we as a species can feel proud of.” She praised the Carl Sagan Institute for continuing the mission its namesake held dear: searching for life elsewhere in the galaxy and using that information to better our own planet.

by Talia Lewis

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