Astrobiology (general)

Carl Sagan – Galileo Interdisciplinary Scientist (1934 – 1996)

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
December 20, 1996
Filed under
Carl Sagan – Galileo Interdisciplinary Scientist (1934 – 1996)
Photograph of Carl Sagan standing next to a model of the Viking lander in Death Valley, California. — NASA

Carl Sagan passed away on December 20, 1996 of pneumonia after a two-year battle with bone marrow disease. He was 62, and will be sorely missed by his friends and colleagues on the Galileo project. Sagan is survived by his wife, sister, five children and a grandson.

Public Memorial Planned for Carl Sagan

Ceremonies Scheduled for February 17 in California

The Planetary Society is planning a commemoration of the life of Carl Sagan at a memorial in Pasadena, California on President’s Day, Monday, February 17, 1997 at 7 p.m. The program will take place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St. and is now scheduled to include NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, Anny Druyan (Carl’s widow and collaborator), Dr. Ed Stone (JPL Director), Society Vice President Bruce Murray, astronaut Buzz Aldrin and other notables in the space exploration community. Carl will be shown at different times in his career through TV clips and slides.

The memorial is open to the public.

Sagan Played Key Roles In JPL missions

Dr. Carl Sagan and his long history of contributions to space missions conducted by JPL were remembered by his scientific colleagues following his death Dec. 20. Sagan had key roles in shaping the course of exploration of the planets with robotic spacecraft since the 1960s to the present. At the time of his death, he was an interdisciplinary scientist on JPL’s Galileo mission to Jupiter.

JPL Director Dr. Edward Stone, who also served as project scientist on the Voyager mission, commented:

“The world’s science community, and the field of planetary exploration in particular, have lost one of its most gifted minds and eloquent voices in the passing of Dr. Carl Sagan. As a team member on various planetary missions, Carl repeatedly demonstrated a special capability to understand the significance of a finding and place it in context. His contributions to the Voyager program, over some 20 years, were significant in making it the very successful exploration of the outer planets that it was. I personally shall miss his wise counsel.

“The entire JPL staff joins me in mourning his loss and extending our deepest sympathies to the Sagan family. “

Dr. Torrence Johnson, Galileo Project Scientist, who also worked with Sagan as a fellow member of the science team on the Voyager missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, recalled:

“Carl was one of the greatest intellects behind the genesis of space exploration generally and specifically the Galileo mission. He was part of the original group that got together to promote the mission to NASA and he served as an interdisciplinary scientists on the mission team from the beginning. He was a great human being who shared with everyone his excitement about the exploration of the universe.”

Galileo Project Manager Bill O’Neil expressed the team’s grief at Sagan’s passing:

“The Galileo mission team is heartbroken with the loss of Carl Sagan. Carl was one of our most esteemed interdisciplinary scientists on the Galileo Project Science Group. But more than that, Carl was a wonderful colleague and dear friend to us all. Carl is very well known for his tremendous success in engaging the public in space exploration. Not so well known is that Carl was extremely effective in helping save Galileo from the budget ax many times in the early years of the project. We are greatly indebted to Carl for his support and inspiration through the years.”

Dr. Carolyn Porco of the University of Arizona heads the imaging team for JPL’s Cassini mission to Saturn. She attributes much of her success in science to early mentoring she received from Sagan:

“Of all the people I have met in the course of my scientific career, no one was more gracious, understanding, respectful and encouraging towards me than Carl. From my very first professional presentation at the age of 21, to my current position as the Cassini imaging team leader, Carl was there, always, with a kind, gentle word of support. I believe that he cared for people, genuinely, in that special way that distinguishes great humanitarian leaders. And I believe that underlying his life’s work was a bedrock faith in the fragile dignity and goodness of all humankind.

“His passing is a heartbreaking loss-for his family, for the community of scientists that he walked among, and for the world. We who remain on Earth have lost our guardian angel. He is part of the cosmos now.”


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) πŸ––πŸ»