Carl Sagan, faculty from 1971 to 1996, is considered one of greatest popularizers of science.
During his lifetime, Sagan published more than 600 papers and 20 books. He won a Pulitzer Prize, and he was even nominated for a Grammy. In the 1980s, he co-wrote and narrated the award winning television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, about the origin of life on Earth and humanity’s place in the universe. His novel, Contact, was made into a film with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.
Sagan frequently collaborated with NASA. He is probably most famous for his gold plaque (aboard the Pioneer 10 spacecraft) and his golden records (aboard the Voyager space probes) - these items used rudimentary images and mathematics to send messages to extraterrestrial intelligence.
Sagan was also a well-established scientist. He contributed heavily to field of planetary science. He correctly characterized Venus’ extreme temperatures, evaluated the presence of methane oceans on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and predicted the presence of oceans on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
He was also a pioneer in the field of astrobiology, which seeks to understand the origin and evolution of life on Earth as well as the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe. He urged the scientific community to listen for signals from extraterrestrial lifeforms using radio telescopes.
While at Cornell, Sagan inhabited an office on the third floor of the Space Sciences Building, and taught a class about critical thinking, which is now taught by Prof. Yervant Terzian, astronomy. He supervised many undergraduate and graduate students, including Prof. Steve Squyres, astronomy, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission.
He died of pneumonia in 1996 after a long battle with myelodysplasia; he is buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Ithaca.