Carl Sagan: visionary scientist

Carl SaganCarl Sagan“If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reason for a Bill of Rights.
With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”

? Carl Sagan

Cannabis Culture readers born after 1980 missed the heady days of the 1960’s and 70’s, when psychedelic consciousness, direct-action civil disobedience, and the ecology movement ended the Vietnam War, drove a corrupt American president from office, and made every day Earth Day.

The most famous scientist of that tumultuous, idealistic era was Carl Sagan, a boy-wonder astrophysicist and scientific philosopher whose $8 million, 13-part television series, Cosmos, taught half a billion worldwide viewers about the 15 billion-year history of the universe.

Sagan and his third wife, Ann Druyan, co-wrote the best-selling book Cosmos; they also co-wrote the television series.

Sagan’s version of past, present, and future, which he elucidated in award-winning books, movies, essays, and public appearances, was controversial and comprehensive. The vivacious, brilliant scientist gave humans a revolutionary new template for understanding the origins of the universe and the place of the human species therein.

One of his core principals was that humans are “starstuff,” the product of a long and amazing process involving matter, energy, and time.

Sagan said that while he was not an atheist, he failed to find scientific evidence supporting the belief that humans are the most important part of the universe, or that patriarchal gods created them.

Instead of finding meaning in myths and fantasies, Sagan insisted, the measure of our lives lay in the choices we made, contextualized by the humbling admission that we are a “temporary form of life under the creation of a power beyond our comprehension.”

Despite his scientific skepticism of human-centered religions, Sagan was not a materialist or nihilist. Indeed, his ideas were more spiritual, ethical and rigorous than the ideas of many who criticized him for offending their religious-humanist sensibilities.

War, war machinery, prejudice, destruction of nature, superstition, alien abductions, political-consumerist propaganda, religious charlatans, nationalism ? Sagan decried these as dangerous,
insidious follies.

And as he crusaded for more science education and for application of the scientific method to every aspect of existence, Sagan challenged the human species to be more honest and gentle, and to affirm the value of all life and the universe itself ? not because a punishing god commanded it, but because it made the most sense.

Despite unparalleled popularity with the masses, Sagan was attacked by other scientists, who said he was wrong for “popularizing” science, and for telling “regular citizens” to hold scientists accountable for their research and creations.

Creationists lambasted Sagan, saying he preached a “religion called scientism” that did not acknowledge the supremacy of humans or the Father God who allegedly created us. Conservative Republicans, anti-environmentalists, and military-industrial shills called him an “unpatriotic liberal.”

But Sagan’s critics made themselves look bad by attacking the gifted science orator who also possessed impeccable scientific credentials.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to an American mother and a Russian immigrant father, Sagan decided at age 12 that he wanted to be an astronomer. At age 16, he entered the University of Chicago on a scholarship. He received his first bachelor’s degree when he was 19, and then earned a second bachelor’s degree, a master’s in physics, and a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics by the time he was 25.

While doing research at the University of California at Berkeley, Sagan discovered the true nature of the atmosphere and surface conditions on Venus. He later discovered important aspects of the Martian atmosphere and the moons of Saturn. He taught at Stanford University and Harvard University, and was a staffer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. In 1968, he became director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, where he also taught classes. Standing room only crowds always thronged his lectures.

Sagan’s ideas and warnings were prophetic, foreshadowing the development and discoveries of sociobiology, ecopsychology, and evolutionary biology. He predicted or anticipated global climate change, biodiversity loss, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, space-based weapons, and the Internet.

He was a scientist with the charisma and cache of a rock star ? advising the makers of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and appearing with Hollywood celebrities and counterculture icons on behalf of progressive causes. Sagan and Druyan were the guiding lights behind the evocative feature film Contact, starring Jodie Foster. For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Sagan was an adviser on the Mariner, Voyager and Viking unmanned space missions. He also briefed astronauts on journeys to the moon.

His resume, filled with stellar achievements, was 250 pages long.

But fate was cruel. In the early 1990’s, Sagan was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease called myelodysplasia. A marrow transplant from his sister temporarily saved his life, but then cancer cells invaded his body.

“I would recommend almost dying to everybody,” he told an interviewer. “You get a much clearer perspective on what’s important and what isn’t, ? the importance of family and of trying to safeguard a future worthy of our children.”

After a valiant struggle, Sagan died on December 20, 1996, at the age of 62.

While he was alive, marijuana users speculated that Sagan’s provocative, innovative thinking might have resulted from altered consciousness caused by marijuana.

Soon after his death, biographers and journalists made headline news by reporting that Sagan and Ann Druyan were marijuana users and legalization advocates. Much was made of an anonymous essay attributed to Sagan, in which he glowingly detailed how marijuana helped him appreciate art, music, friends, lovers, and his work.

Ann Druyan (pronounced Dree-yan) was Sagan’s last wife, and the mother of two of his five children. She was co-author or collaborator on many of Sagan’s most successful projects, and now directs or manages several production companies which are creating highly lauded scientific and cultural educational materials, space travel vehicles, and media projects. Druyan is especially proud of her role in building the Carl Sagan Discovery Center, the first children’s hospital in the Bronx.

Druyan is also a long-time board member and important fundraiser for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Sagan said of his wife: “In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is still my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie.”

Ann Druyan gave this exclusive interview to Cannabis Culture from her home in New York.

Carl SaganYou were married to one of the 20th century’s most famous scientists, and now you are carrying Carl Sagan’s legacy forward. How did you become interested in science?

In 1974, I first met Carl. I was 25 years old. I am 51 now. My knowledge of science came from being with Carl, not from formal academic training. Carl gave me a thrilling tutorial in science and math that lasted the 20 years we were together.

And science for you and Carl has been a way of deciphering the world?

For most of the history of our species we were helpless to understand how nature works. We took every storm, drought, illness and comet personally. We created myths and spirits in an attempt to explain the patterns of nature.

Around the time that humans settled down and began doing large-scale agriculture, some cultures created the notion that storms, floods, lightning, disease, and even our own mortality were forms of punishment meted out by an angry god in the sky.

This misinterpretation of reality was first questioned by the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosophers, formed by the same culture that invented the idea of democracy. Among them was Hippocrates, one of my heroes. He noted, for example, that people believed epilepsy was a divine curse, because they didn’t understand what really caused it. Hippocrates predicted that the actual cause of epilepsy would one day be understood and as soon as it was, people would stop thinking it was divine. This is the first great footstep on the road to having a scientific understanding of the universe. Incidentally, it was another great pre-Socratic philosopher, Democritus, who said, “Life without getting high is like a road without an inn.”

A lot of people are suspicious of science, because it can so easily be turned to bad purposes.

Carl worked harder than anyone I know of to combat the misuse of science. One of his greatest dreams was of a society where everybody had enough scientific knowledge so they could influence what scientists did with their power. Carl recognized that science should not just be the property of an elite group that speaks some arcane language.

He knew that if we were to have even a little bit of democracy in this society, as many of us as possible should understand the workings, language, values and methods of science and technology so that we can’t be so easily manipulated. He took a lot of abuse from scientists who cherished their elitism.

In researching Carl Sagan for this interview, I found it almost impossible to overstate the breadth of his scientific and academic credentials.

I think Carl was so off-scale because he took so much pleasure in his work. He had a lifelong, unquenchable curiosity. He really wanted to know how the universe was put together. He followed this passion wherever it took him; across scientific disciplines and careers. In his life there was no division between work and pleasure.

His book Dragons of Eden is a masterpiece on the evolution of intelligence and the process of development that led to the three parts of the human brain. Cosmos was the most popular science book in the English language. The Cosmos television series, which we wrote together, was worldwide the most successful 13-part science program in television history. It was a hit among people of all cultures and ages. It is just become available in an updated version on digital video disc ? a 13-hour explanation of how the human species found its part in the great story of the universe.

Carl played a leading role in every single one of NASA’s missions of exploration from the beginning of the space age until his death in December 1996. He was a Pulitzer-prize winning author of more than twenty books, six hundred scientific papers, countless popular articles, television shows and a major motion picture. He probably attracted more people to read, study, teach and do science than any other individual in the history of the world.

He was one of the most conscientious citizens the planet has ever had, among the first to raise the alarm about global warming, a tireless activist against the insanity of the nuclear arms race, and an innovative scientific researcher who was a co-discoverer of the unsuspected possible climactic consequences of nuclear war.

He opened the universe for me as he did for millions worldwide. Not only was he a great scientist who pioneered the search for life and intelligence on other worlds, as well as its origin on this one, he was a leading researcher who discovered much about the atmospheres of other planets. Carl was the first to bring public attention to the dangers of our inadvertent modification of the Earth’s climate and atmosphere.

What accounted for Carl’s ability to get so many people interested in science?

When people would ask him why he went to such lengths to do public science education, why he didn’t just stay in the lab or university classroom, he would always smile and say “when you’re in love you want to tell the world.” To him, science was a series of thrilling revelations that he took to heart. That’s where he spoke from and people were moved. Science had been for most of us a hopelessly impenetrable form of boring torture. The way Carl taught, it became clear and spiritually uplifting.

He combined an awesome respect for reality with a boundless imagination; skepticism and wonder both, never one at the expense of the other. He experienced the soaring high of accepting that we humans are not the center of the universe.

A lot of people have this ego need that makes them want to believe that Earth is the center of the universe and humans are the most important species, the supreme expression of creation. For them, Carl’s view that humans are a part of creation, but not the crown of creation, is an unbearable bummer. Carl felt that seeing us as a part of the fabric of nature is a much bigger and more inspiring perspective. For him it was a liberation. To others it was threatening. The creationists were certainly offended.

Was Carl criticized and persecuted for his scientific-political activities?

During the 1980’s we were arrested three times at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site while protesting US underground nuclear testing. This kind of activism cost him many of the glittering prizes and honors that he might have gotten if he had played along with things he thought were wrong. He turned down three invitations to dine at the Reagan White House. He couldn’t be co-opted. His opposition to the Star Wars swindle drew a lot of fire. I wish the world had a Carl Sagan now to publicly argue against the new Star Wars proposals. He could spot the phony technical arguments of the Department of Defense and bust them publicly in a way that we could all grasp.

I wish there was someone now to challenge the current President’s flagrant disregard for the environment. We were told that when Russia’s President Gorbachev visited the White House, he told Reagan how much he admired Carl’s work. Reagan, who was famous for being grandfatherly and mellow, became uncharacteristically harsh.

Carl took on the military-industrial complex. He campaigned around the world for an end to the production of weapons of mass destruction. To him it was a perversion of science. So yes, it’s true that Carl was frequently denounced by televangelists, astrologers and The Wall Street Journal. Even so, it wasn’t much of a price to pay. He was the happiest person I ever knew.

My impression is that Carl had a spiritual side to him. Is that accurate?

Perhaps his greatest contribution was to teach a new sense of the sacred. It came out of his fidelity to the scientific method and his courage in wanting to see how the universe was really put together, rather than imposing his fantasies, his personal ego needs, his programming, on the universe.

It takes a fearless, unflinching love and deep humility to accept the universe as it is. The most effective way he knew to accomplish that, the most powerful tool at his disposal, was the scientific method, which over time winnows out deception. It can’t give you absolute truth because science is a permanent revolution, always subject to revision, but it can give you successive approximations of reality.

Science reveals a universe far grander, larger and older than our ancestors ever dreamed. Part of Carl’s genius was to re-unite the wonder of spirituality with the rigorous skepticism of science. What resulted was the answer to an ancient yearning that freed us of the need to lie
to ourselves.

You co-authored books with him, and acted as a partner in many of his most famous projects. Could you describe your professional collaboration with Carl?

One of our first collaborations was in 1977. I was Creative Director of the Voyager Interstellar Message. This message was encoded in golden phonograph records affixed to NASA’s Voyager I and II spacecrafts. It consists of 27 pieces of music, 118 images, greetings in 59 human and one whale language, and an audio history of Earth.

The Voyager records have traveled farther than any other objects touched by humans on board the fastest moving spacecraft we’ve ever created. They move at 38,000 miles per hour. The discs have a shelf life of 1 billion years. They include Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, Louis Armstrong performing Melancholy Blues, Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Bach and Beethoven, a Japanese shakuhachi flute piece, a Bulgarian shepherdess with pipes like Aretha Franklin, a Senegalese instrumental, Peruvian pan pipes, an Indian vocal raga that raises goose bumps and much, much more. Many people have told me that the Voyager collection was their first exposure to what we now call “world music.” I called it Earth’s Greatest Hits.

Designing these golden records felt like we were building a Noah’s ark of world culture. There were six of us on the message team. We’d call people and ask for tapes of their best cricket song or school yard chants, but when we told them it was for an interstellar message there’d be either a long, long pause or a click. We consulted musicians, composers, ethnomusicologists and scientists.

We’ve sent along a needle and record player on both spacecraft. We engraved hieroglyphics explaining how to play the records, along with our address in the Milky Way galaxy to give the finders some clue as to where we are.

If you were to come back to this planet a billion years from now you wouldn’t recognize the surface of our planet because it would have been dramatically changed by large-scale geological processes, but that music would still be playable and revealing of who we were. Hand engraved on each record are the words: “For the makers of music, all worlds all times”.

Ann Druyan and Carl SaganAnn Druyan and Carl SaganOne of your colleagues told me that you put something very personal into the Voyager messages.

I asked Carl if there was any possibility that if I meditated while I was hooked up to a machine that records brain activity, that someday that data might be deciphered by the putative extraterrestrials. Carl looked at me with a big smile and replied, “A billion years is a long time, Annie. You might as well do it.”

So, on a gorgeous June day, I went to Bellevue Hospital in New York City and was hooked up to a bunch of sophisticated machines while I meditated about the history of life on earth, about the danger we found ourselves in back in 1977 with a planet infested with 50,000 nuclear weapons, and about what I was learning about love. It was the very week that Carl and I had fallen in love with each other.

I was recording this meditation hooked up to a computer the size of a room with scores of technicians recording EKG, EEG, REM, and every neuronal impulse. That hour of meditation was compressed into a minute of sound and included on the Voyager Record. I feel comforted and awed knowing that 500 million or even a thousand million years from now, something of that ecstatic June and our love for each other may survive and be known by another form of intelligent life.

Did you mention cannabis in the Voyager messages?

There is no direct reference to cannabis, but there is a photograph of an elderly man from central Asia who is smoking up. We don’t know exactly what the contents of his very fancy pipe might be, but it may have been cannabis.

We might also speculate about what was coursing through the bloodstreams of some of the scientists, engineers, artists, composers and musicians who made the Voyager Message possible. Louis Armstrong, who loved marijuana, is featured on the record.

Marijuana is something both you and Carl cared deeply about?

Yes, and I know that sometime in the not too distant future, we will look back on the fact that we persecuted people for marijuana use the way we looked at the idea of putting homosexuals in prison, or persecuting ethnic minorities. It’s a barbaric policy that people who should know better are somehow content to abide.

How can we tolerate this war? What does it say about us as a people? America has a population of 280 million, a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Yet we have 25% of all the people imprisoned on the planet. What does it say about “the land of the free?” And a significant percentage of people in prison are there for nonviolent drug offenses?

Recently, US courts sentenced a quadriplegic man, and an armless, legless woman, to jail for small quantities of marijuana. As if people in those circumstances were somehow too free, and needed
further restraints on their freedom.

You’ve gone public with your call for marijuana law reform, just as your husband did several years before he died.

About ten years ago, a caller asked Carl on the Larry King radio show if he was for legalizing marijuana. He didn’t hesitate to say yes. My recollection is that Larry followed up by asking Carl if he had ever smoked marijuana, and he again said yes. We thought there would be some fallout, but there was none. We didn’t hear anybody say that Carl Sagan was a bad person because he used marijuana, and indeed marijuana was a wholly positive part of his life.

In our culture you generally only learn about a famous person’s marijuana use in the context of their disintegration, usually because of an arrest or enrollment in some treatment program. I think it’s worthwhile to take note of a life so fully realized as Carl’s was, a life in which marijuana was significant and positive, rather than a problem.

You’re very open about your marijuana advocacy, even though other people in your position might have kept it hidden. How has this affected your life?

When it became publicly known that Carl and I used marijuana, I expected some harassment, but we didn’t get any. What was surprising is the people who would come up to me and say “thanks” for being up front about marijuana. They were not hippies, they were regular working people who had to worry about urine tests, whose jobs required they wear a uniform. They had to hide their marijuana use from society and even their own children.

I’m not talking about changing the image of marijuana users from hippies to yuppies. I want to show that all kinds of people ? hard-working blue-collar people, scholars, people from all walks of life, the backbone of the country ? they smoke marijuana!

It’s safe to say that Carl’s vital and energetic approach to life clashed with drug war propaganda that says “marijuana users are losers.”

Absolutely. In my experience, responsible marijuana use is compatible with a healthy, fulfilled life; one of honesty, ethics and accomplishment. Carl’s marijuana use never impinged on any aspect of his responsibilities, and I think it’s illustrative to recall that he taught at Cornell, ran the Laboratory for Planetary Studies, mentored graduate students who have become among the most influential leaders in their scientific fields, edited the highly regarded scientific journal Icarus, co-founded The Planetary Society, edited its beautiful and informative bulletin for 16 years, wrote and edited countless books, one of which won the Pulitzer Prize, co-wrote a landmark award-winning television series, wrote countless articles and speeches on wide-ranging topics, participating in every NASA mission, volunteer teaching at public schools and the list goes on.

Carl’s life itself was a challenge to drug war lies. He was as completely developed a human being as I have ever met, and he smoked marijuana. The superlative nature of his life is significant evidence that counters those who say marijuana prevents people from maximizing their potential. If there’s an “amotivational syndrome” associated with pot use, we certainly don’t see any evidence of that in Carl’s life. And I believe there are a huge number of responsible citizens who use pot appropriately and contribute enormously to our society. The question is, why are they so passive in the face of unreasoning persecution?

That passivity has been one of your main concerns as a member of the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

I’ve been a NORML board member for nearly a decade. Those of us involved with NORML have often wondered why people don’t contribute more, why they don’t help the cause more. Some of those who are sympathetic to our cause are afraid to affiliate with us. Marijuana reform advocates are a victim of a kind of McCarthyized propaganda campaign that includes professional, economic and legal penalties for people who try to change the laws. Some people are afraid to write checks to NORML or even to be on our mailing list.

How can individuals fight against the drug war?

I’d like to see us get off the defensive and be more assertive. It’s mostly poor people, or people with very bad luck, who get caught up by drug laws. A lot of people in the suburbs, with respectable jobs, are somewhat insulated from the injustices of the drug war. I’d like to see them stand up and register their opposition.

I am convinced there are more marijuana smokers than fundamentalist Christians, for example, but the fundamentalists are far better organized, more dedicated, more willing to spend time and money for what they believe in. (Of course they are not persecuted for their beliefs.)

They are a potent cultural and political force, while marijuana smokers are comparatively passive and too easily intimidated into silence. The secrecy and dishonesty is pernicious, it corrupts and corrodes human relationships and the marijuana experience itself.

What can NORML do to help the cause?

I wish more people knew how dedicated the people at NORML are. Keith Stroup and Allen St Pierre have been working at this for a long time. They could both be doing something else that
would be far easier and personally much more lucrative.

Right now, it feels as if their hard work is beginning to pay off. Our work with Governor Gary Johnson in New Mexico seems to be getting some results. We are forging new relationships, working with groups across the political spectrum. NORML is trying to cultivate a better relationship with the grassroots activists who don’t have much money to work with. But we are also seeking to change the public’s perception of the stereotypical marijuana user. We don’t want people to only be known for marijuana use when they are on their way to jail. And there’s nothing bad about the pot-smoking hippie image, but we also need to show that all kinds of people use marijuana.

Ann DruyanAnn DruyanWhat has cannabis meant to you? What did it mean to your husband?

It’s a sacrament and we treated it as such, with respect. Our species has an ancient history of experience with marijuana. Our ancestors knew how to integrate marijuana use into the life of their community; to find a balance. That’s what we tried to do. Not that we had any rigid rules for use. There was plenty of spontaneity; but no abuse. I have used it since I was a teenager in the ’60’s, and it has never interfered with my health or productivity.

For me it has been a gateway drug, but not a gateway to anything destructive, but to a more glorious understanding of my part of the fabric of nature and to an ever-deeper relationship with my family. Carl and I both found it put us in a state of mind that made us more receptive to new ideas, more sensitive to other people’s feelings, more able to focus on the great natural pleasures of life.

Throughout our lives, there were long periods of time when we didn’t have any marijuana. We didn’t jones for it. I know there are people who have problems becoming dependent on it. We never experienced any such problems.

In the two years of suffering leading up to Carl’s death, he had radiation and chemotherapy during the course of three torturous bone marrow transplants. His physicians prescribed Marinol. He tried it several times and he hated it. He found it stupefying. He said that Marinol’s effects were everything you don’t want ? it deadens you, it makes you sleepy, and you can’t function. He used medical marijuana during that period, and it helped him control nausea, have an appetite, and it lifted his spirits.

Medical marijuana definitely helped Carl, who wrote two books during this period, and we collaborated on the movie Contact. His doctors told me he was the most forward looking patient they’d ever seen, never once complaining, always trying to get back to work. They told me they had precious few patients who could read books during bone marrow transplants, much less write them.

Have you had any cannabis moments that you care to share?

Carl and I shared a love for Bob Marley’s music. I was thrilled to be invited to Bob Marley’s birthday celebration last year at his house on Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica. I got the invitation because I was asked on CNN if there was anything I wish I had included on the Voyager records, and I said, “Yes, Bob Marley’s song No Woman, No Cry.” I then went into a riff on what the song meant to me. Somebody from the Bob Marley Foundation heard what I said on CNN, and invited me to participate in the Jamaican celebration.

But it turned out to be an unsettling event. Rita Marley was magnificent; it was such an honor to meet her, but the actual celebration felt somewhat co-opted by people whom I think Bob Marley would not have felt at home with. For example, we were only served alcohol, and it was this glittering party full of glamorously dressed people, with almost all the rastas locked outside the gate. The Marley image had been taken over by the chamber of commerce, turned into an icon of tourism, mutated into a kind of universal theme park version of Bob Marley.

I told Rita I felt it was somewhat depressing to see how Bob’s image had been sanitized. The Bob Marley these people were talking about would not have been a threat to anybody. I wanted to hear about the “get up-stand up” Bob Marley.

Rita said, “You must get up there and speak.” At first I refused, because I was an outsider and there as a guest, but she said, “No, no, no ? you have to get up and say this to everyone.”

So she went to the microphone and introduced me, saying, “This lady has something to say about what’s missing here.” About half the people in the audience welcomed what I said. I could see it in their faces. They were saying, “Yes, yes!” But a third of the audience was giving me these really hard looks, like they wanted me to shut up about the real Bob Marley: a freedom fighter, a revolutionary, and a man of ganja.

I admire your candor, and I appreciate the time you’ve taken from your exciting schedule. We’ve talked a lot about the past, and about your husband, but please tell us about your current endeavors. I understand that some of them are “out of this world.”

I founded a company called Cosmos Studios that supports bold, original scientific research, clean technology and educating the widest possible audience about the romance of scientific discovery. We most want to communicate the spiritual power of science’s central revelation ? our oneness with the universe.

Our first project was updating and re-releasing the Cosmos series in VHS and DVD formats. We’ve also released a compact disc of the music from the Cosmos series. We have four new television projects in production and a half a dozen more in development. These projects strive to embody the values and insights that we learned from Carl.

Our most ambitious undertaking so far will be the launch of Cosmos I, the first solar sail in history. It’s been known for many years that you could use big reflective sails to get up to speeds that would make interstellar travel feasible. A solar sail is a spacecraft powered by light. If our current understanding of physics is correct, the only way we can get to the stars is on a vehicle powered by sunlight and, once you get too far from the sun, by lasers. Theoretically, solar sails can travel ten times faster than NASA’s Voyagers, making it possible to travel across the incomprehensibly vast distance between us and the nearest star.

This spring, we’ll be launching a sub-orbital test flight that will be lifted on an ICBM launched from a Russian sub in the Berents Sea. The test launch will determine whether two of the Mylar sails, which are like the petals of a huge flower some seventy feet across, will open properly. We plan to launch the actual craft in the fall. It should be visible to the naked eye. The budget for the entire mission is $4 million.

We are proud to be launching a symbol of the potential of alternative energy sources, working with former adversaries, turning their broadest sword into a means of peaceful scientific exploration, and pioneering space travel.

I’d like to ride on a solar sail and smoke a joint in space! It seems that freedom, the freedom to use a god-given plant, the freedom to define one’s own sense of what is sacred, the freedom to do ethical science, is something that meant a lot to you and Carl.

One of the great promises of America, one which we have yet to fully live up to, is the promise of freedom, the promise that we can explore our creativity and push the limits of human potential. America’s founders invented a constitution that granted new freedoms, but now we lead the world in oppressing people’s freedom to alter consciousness.

For us, it has been a religious issue. Religious freedom shouldn’t be limited to established religions. Marijuana can certainly be a means to a qualitative religious experience. It helps you appreciate the complexity and beauty of the universe. If we really believed in religious freedom we’d say that there are millions of people who derive something spiritual and meaningful from this marijuana. They should have the right to enjoy what they consider sacred. Smoking marijuana can be an aperture to a deep appreciation of what is holy, beautiful and sacred. We should encourage people to do this wisely, instead of persecuting them.

I’ve spoken with you several times, and I’ve been impressed by your dedication to Carl Sagan’s legacy. But I also sense that you are still grieving for him, and may never get over the loss.

I miss him but I accept the fact of his death. I’m mostly left with an overwhelming sense of my good fortune to have him in my heart for the rest of my life. I try to stay alert to the great beauty of being alive.

But for you, it was like losing a precious dream.

Carl and I were like two euphoric, ecstatic sea mammals moving through oceans at great speeds without having to worry about impediments or dangers, without having to use turn signals to alert the other to a change in direction. We appreciated each other completely and missed few chances to tell each other how honored and happy we felt to be on the same tiny planet in this unimaginably vast universe during the same epoch in the whole sweep of cosmic evolution. It seemed like a miracle to us.

Carl apparently didn’t believe that Carl Sagan would live on, in some discreet but non-physical form, after his death. Are there any ways in which you feel, however, that Carl might still be said to be alive?

I do not believe that Carl is still alive in any supernatural way. My understanding of science and reality tells me that most likely, when we die, we end, that’s it. We’re gone.

Yet, there is a way in which he is still alive. When you spend 20 years with somebody day and night, you have their voice in your head ? not in some supernatural way or like a mental illness, where you hear voices ? but your loved one’s voice and their way of thinking, through years of experience becomes imprinted in your brain. Carl’s magnificent laugh is in my head and so he is with me in that way.

And we created two wonderful children who are distinct individuals, but who already manifest some of Carl’s most wonderful qualities. He lives in them and all the countless people who tell me he changed their lives for the better.

If the universe is indeed 12.5 billion years old and the most you as an individual can hope for is 100 years, and there’s more billions of years to come, the only victory is to live fully and completely, to be totally alive every moment you’re here. Do whatever you can to make this planet less brutal and squalid. Ask questions that make a difference, work for justice. Make your short burst of life count.

The reason I was able to survive the grief of Carl’s death is that the authenticity of what we experienced together was so pure. I learned that if you really love someone you should be very nice to them, because what’s really going to haunt you after they die is the times you were grumpy to them, or didn’t take an opportunity to show your love.

If you feel like what was between you was totally cool, that you did everything you could with the time you had, that you lived fully and ethically, then your sadness is tempered by thankfulness.Ann Druyan

More Info:

? For more on Carl Sagan:
? The Planetary Society: