When Neil deGrasse Tyson met Carl Sagan

This is a seriously incredible story. If you did not already kind of love Carl Sagan, and think of him as a sort of benevolent hippie grandpa, you totally will now.

And the message here is seriously spot-on: The best way to honor the people who helped you realize your dreams is to help somebody else realize theirs.

Via Joanne Manaster


    1. Sigh.  Must a post about how awesome Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan are be an opportunity for politicking?   “Man, that was a great Phish show.  Also, can you believe that Neville Chamberlin fell for that crap in Munich?” 

  1. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of my most favorite people ever. He is so smart and has a terrific sense of humor.  Hearing him talk about Carl Sagan is really moving to me, but I’m also a huge astrophysics nerd. 

  2. I met Sagan once when I was doing anti-nuclear work in the 1980s. He was gracious, funny, engaging and personable. NDT’s experience was very much like my own. Such a loss.

  3. Love them both.

    Sagan I’ve loved my whole life; Tyson I only recently “got” after seeing him on Bill Maher’s show. Both are totally inspiring.

  4. Sigh. I miss uncle Carl. Benevolent hippy grandpa is right. Neil’s never quite done it for me, though he’s obviously smart and engaging, but I always got the sense that Carl was practically bursting at the seams with the constant awe at the truths and possibilities of everything. It’s an attitude I try to cultivate a little every day.

    And really, I’m just hoping the Vegans needed him back home for a little bit and will be returning him in due time :-P

  5. My father knew Carl Sagan (many years before he was well known), and was really impressed with him as a person.  My father told the story of how a friend’s kid would call up Sagan with physics/astronomy questions, and Sagan would happily spend hours on the phone explaining and discussing the science.

  6. ETA: OOps – I am thinking of Ronald Mallett.

    Tyson just seems like a tragic, sad character in a way. I guess my heart breaks a little when I see him , with part of the reason he got into this line of science was so he could go back in time and stop his dad’s death. I do love his ability to connect with the average layman.

    1. I’m afraid you’ve confused Tyson with Ronald Mallett.  I agree with you characterization, though — I think so highly of Mallett’s appearance on This American Life the I have it archived.

  7. That was inspiring.  It’s amazing what one act of kindness can do.  Not only did it give NDT a great experience and memory, he is also paying it forward to other people.
    In unrelated news,  I now have something in my eye.

  8. @waksawak Thanks for the sarcasm! To me the point of the post was his reverence for Sagan and how much of an inspiration Sagan was on him as a youngster. So I’m honestly just curious why he didn’t go there in that case… It’s not like Cornell’s astro program was total crap such that going there would have been this huge step down from Harvard. If it were me and this were the person I looked up to most in the field I wanted to go into, especially knowing he was going all out to recruit me, I would have gone there in a heartbeat…

  9. Neil may have his faults, but I appreciate that despite his many achievements,  his self-effacing personality and humor make science approachable to the every-man. It makes him a valuable asset these days. The current  state-of-the-onion with respect to the sciences is disturbing, so anyone who can act as a pr0-science firebrand is a hero in my estimation.

  10. Wow. That blew me away, primarily because *I* got a letter from Carl Sagan when I was a teenager! I was a dorky nerd in high school. Interested in science, dealt with bullies, etc. Unbeknownst to me, one of my mom’s friends wrote to Carl Sagan about me, telling him of the challenges I faced, my love of science, etc. So one day I get a letter in the mail, postmarked from Cornell. I open it, and it’s from Carl Sagan, encouraging me to pursue my love of science, talking about dealing with the obstacles and challenges, etc. Hand-signed by him. It had a real impact on me. I imagine there must be many other people out there that he reached out to in such a personal way. He was an incredible man.

  11. Was the High School named after him?

    /someone had to ask…  You know it.
    //Maggie: can you provide a direct link to the Vimeo video.  My browser’s armour-plating isn’t letting me play Vimeo videos when embedded in boingboing pages.  Thanks.

  12. He is the second best Tyson for the Cosmos job.

    Watching Mike Tyson unravel the mysteries of the universe would be the most entertaining show ever filmed… and it would help kids feel they weren’t being spoken down to by stodgy old astronomy types.

  13. Two days before this was posted on BB,  I was in Ithaca and stopped at a red light by the Ithaca bus station where Carl dropped a young Neil deGrasse Tyson off one snowy night. I looked over, and Nick Sagan and Linda Salzman Sagan were in the car next to me. The next day I run into Ann Druyan sitting next to the Earth obelisk on the Sagan Planet Walk near the bank. I wasn’t even sure it was her due to lack of lenses and the improbability of it all. Her reacting to my “is that really her face” confirmed who it was.  Well, that, and we talk.

    You have to love Ithaca NY.

  14. “The best way to honor the people who helped you realize your dreams is to help somebody else realize theirs.”

    Then why does Neil deGrasse Tyson charge $30,000 to speak to underrepresented minority science students?

    Something doesn’t fit there.

    1. Same reason every spokeperson does. While they certainly enjoy doing those presentations, they also have jobs to do, and it being asked to talk at more than 365 places on a year could get really taxing.

      1. Being asked is not taxing. You simply limit the number of opportunities you accept in a given year. It took us two years to get Michelle Obama to come due to other commitments. She obviously can’t charge for an appearance, but Nobel prize winner Bob Curl came last year and wouldn’t even accept a token honorarium. I work at a historically black college for women — a double minority, and the most underrepresented minority in the physical sciences, bar none. Yet we manage to have a physics department the size of colleges with ten times our enrollment. If Mr. Tyson were interested in “helping somebody else realize their dreams,” these are the students he would be eager to speak to, even if it means scheduling it for next year instead of this year. These are the students who face the highest barriers to entry in the discipline he professes. But instead he stands around with his hand held out. No, Mr. Tyson is interested in money and getting on TV and little else. I used to have a great deal of respect for him but not any more.

    2. I agree this is a bad thing if true, but do you have a link or some other way to confirm he charges for all his high school appearances?

      1. Sorry, there is a bit of a misunderstanding here. I work at a historically black liberal arts college for women. We invited Mr. Tyson to come and speak to our undergraduate physics majors about life in science and especially about navigating the path to being scientists when you personally are a trailblazer. His people told us “Sure. Dr. Tyson would love to speak to your students. His speaking fee is $30,000.”

        So no, not high school students (that part was about me). Rather, college undergraduates. But, by and large, undergraduates who are the first people in their families to go to college, certainly the first to dream of being scientists, even though they see science as a world not containing people like themselves.

        No, I don’t have a link. I have personal knowledge. Our department talked to him directly.

  15. Exorbitant speaking fees for popular personalities is just part of the economy and the marketplace of ideas.  Because  he was a local resident, I tried to get Chris Gardner to speak at a meeting I was organizing in 2007, just after “The Pursuit of Happyness” came out and Will Smith’s portrayal of Gardner’s struggle up from homelessness and poverty made him a local celebrity.  I could never speak to him directly, but “his people” said that his standard speaking fee was $25,000.  I told them that was more than the total budget for my entire weekend conference, and they said the issue was non-negotiable.  It was then that I realized THAT is how someone raises themselves out of abject poverty and homelessness to become a famous (and well-respected) financial consultant.

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