Astronomer and science writer Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1934. He was best known as the awe-inspired and awe-inspiring host and co-writer of the television series COSMOS: A Personal Voyage, and as the driving force behind NASA’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence program (SETI), which monitors radio signals and other possible indications of intelligent life on other planets. Sagan spent most of his academic career at Cornell and was associated with NASA from the 1950s onward. In 1990, he argued in a co-authored paper that even a limited nuclear war could produce a “nuclear winter” that would destroy most life on Earth. Sagan was an active proponent of nuclear disarmament and a vocal humanist. His book, The Dragons of Eden, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978; other books included The Cosmic Connection (1973), Contact (a 1985 sci-fi novel later adapted into a film), and The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995, in which he presciently warned of the “dumbing down of America”). Sagan died in 1996.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” —Carl Sagan