Carl Sagan Biography: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Carl Sagan was a famous astronomer who lived in the 20th century, who made many discoveries, wrote popular books, and developed and starred in the most popular science documentary ever made. In this lesson, learn all about his life and work.

Who Was Carl Sagan?

Have you ever gone outside at night and looked up at the stars? Did you wonder what was really out there or maybe even want to go into space yourself?

Do you like to look at the stars and wonder about what is really out there? When he was a kid, the famous astronomer Carl Sagan did too!
the night sky with stars

There was once another kid who spent his nights looking at the stars and dreaming about what was out there, too. His name was Carl Sagan, and growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930's and 40's, he was fascinated by science and by space in particular. He loved reading science fiction books about people who traveled to other planets, and visiting science museums with his school and family.

Carl Sagan was a famous astronomer who lived from 1934-1996
portrait of Carl Sagan

Although Carl always loved space, he thought it would just be a hobby for him. However, when he was in high school, he learned that some people actually get to study outer space and the stars professionally. These important scientists are called astronomers, and when Carl found out that they existed, he knew he wanted to be one too!

Education and Scientific Discoveries

After deciding to study astronomy, Carl Sagan graduated from high school and enrolled in the University of Chicago when he was only sixteen years old. In college, he focused particularly on the study of planets. He was also really fascinated by the possibility that life might exist somewhere in the universe, and started to research that too.

In 1968, he became the director of Cornell University's Laboratory for Planetary Studies and continued working there for the next 30 years. At Cornell, he continued his study of planets both inside and outside our solar system and also did a lot of research in an effort to prove that it was possible and even likely that life might exist on other planets in the universe. In addition, he did a lot of work with NASA, including helping to design the Mariner 2 robotic probe and choose the locations where the Mars Viking probes would land.

The Mariner 2 probe, which Carl Sagan helped design, was the first spacecraft that traveled to to other planets
mariner 2

In addition to making many scientific discoveries, Carl Sagan also wrote many books about science including a popular science fiction novel, Contact, which was later made into a movie. He also spoke publicly about astronomy and extraterrestrial life and appeared on television many times. By the 1970's and 80's, he was the most famous scientist in America!

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