Exploring Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Introducing the Cosmos Rewatch: Welcome Back, Carl Sagan

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, consisting of thirteen episodes aired over the fall and winter months of 1980, is one of the most well-known, significant documentary series in the history of television—still the most widely watched PBS series in the world—and an emotional favorite for more than one generation of viewers, all around the globe. Written by science advocate Carl Sagan, author and science activist Ann Druyan (also married to Sagan), and astrophysicist Steven Soter, with Sagan as the narrator and presenter, Cosmos captured the imaginations and hearts of (at last estimation) around half a billion people. It won both an Emmy and a Peabody award, too.

But, you probably know all of that already—or something like it, at least anecdotally. I’ve met few people, in my parents’ generation or my own, who don’t have at least brief memories of Carl Sagan narrating issues of scientific import from whales to the mind to outer space; fewer still who don’t, on discovering Cosmos, develop a fast appreciation for it. The cultural significance of the series is such that Carl Sagan continues to be a figure across our contemporary scientific world, despite his death in 1996. Folks have made music (the Symphony of Science videos) with his voice, named multiple awards (plus asteroids and rover landing sites) after him—and, in 2013, will be producing a sequel and homage to his work on Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

That upcoming series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, will be hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, produced by Ann Druyan and Seth McFarlane, and aired simultaneously on Fox and National Geographic. The contemporary revival of Cosmos, alongside the original’s appearance on Netflix’s livestream, makes this seem like just about the perfect time to revisit the classic series. To be honest, when I realized that no one had yet done a rewatch here on Tor.com, I was shocked—and really, really thrilled that I would have the chance to do so.

I am not an expert; certainly not a scientist. What I am is an enthusiast, and a person with intense, personal memories of watching Cosmos as a child, of being inspired and moved by Sagan’s narratives. The science in Cosmos may occasionally be outdated, but the passion isn’t, and neither is the joy of sharing that passion with Sagan and the world’s audiences. Cosmos denoted a moment in the cultural history of the US where folks had a lot to say, and think, about science together. I’d like to spend some time re-envisioning and re-investing in that conversation, along with you, readers, as we watch through the series once more (or, for the first time, if you’ve missed it) together.

This rewatch will cover the full thirteen episodes of the series—more than three decades after the original airing—and I welcome you to comment, critique, discuss, and generally have a good time watching along with me. Welcome back, Carl Sagan, for a time.

We begin with “The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.”


Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. She can be found on Twitter and her website.

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