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Chuck Berry and Carl Sagan at a Voyager 2 Neptune flyby celebration in August 1989. Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is the only rock song on the interstellar spacecrafts Voyagers 1 and 2. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Carl Sagan: Childhood Dreams of Space Flight

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This is a guest post by Sahar Kazmi, a writer-editor in the Office of the Chief Information Officer. It appears in the November-December issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.

Children often dream of flying, of traveling to distant worlds. For Carl Sagan, contemplating the unfathomable vastness of the universe was a practically spiritual experience.

The man who would eventually become one of the world’s most distinguished and beloved cosmologists was fascinated by the wonders of space as a young boy.

Captivated by dazzling visions of the future at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Sagan developed a lifelong passion for the mysteries beyond our planet and the technology that might bring humanity closer to them.

Among the 595,000 items in the Library’s Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive is a childhood drawing titled “The Evolution of Interstellar Flight.” Created sometime between 1944 and 1947, when Sagan was 10 to 13 years old, the sketch offers a wondrous vision of adventurers crossing the galaxy.

A yellowed page with pencil sketches of astronauts with a collage of handwritten newspaper headlines
Carl Sagan’s childhood drawings of space travel. Manuscript Division.

A collage of hand-drawn headline clippings wraps around a sleek logo for Sagan’s imagined multinational exploratory organization, “Interstellar Spacelines.” A decade before the start of the moon race, one headline proclaims, “Soviet and American Governments Agree on Mutual Cooperation in Preparation for First Moon Ship.” Others read triumphantly, “Spaceship Reaches Moon!!!” and “Life Found on Venus.”

In one of the most thrilling notes of foresight from the young Sagan, three astronauts appear at the bottom right corner of the page. Their uniforms feature bubble helmets, thick jumpsuits and backpacks with antennae — familiar sights to modern readers, but unexpectedly savvy visions from a school kid in the 1940s.

That boyish wonder never left Sagan. Today, his enchantment with the cosmos lives on in an impressive body of work, ready to inspire a new generation of dreamers.

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Comments (11)

  1. I wonder how old Sagan was when he drew this?

    • Apparently, between 10 and 13, story says.

  2. As Carl Sagan’s sister, I would like to say that I found the blog charming and accurate. Thank you!

    • Wow, talk about getting it straight from the source! So glad you liked and thanks for taking the time to write.

  3. I think guys like him help bring their own world to our own. Mentally ill be able to do that for us 😌

  4. My family is watching cosmos as I write this. We have Seth’s version and the old version. We opened a children’s museum and can’t wait to have all things Sagan 💕 definitely aweinspiring in our life 🙏 ty sir Sagan and Neil

  5. I wonder if Carl Sagan and Elon Musk ever met? They would have been great cohorts.

  6. What a delight to see early aspirations of someone who did so much more than dream. Clearly, his genious included being able to convey his enthusiasms to others and to show the way to actions that made so many dreams come true.

  7. Thanks to the donors and to LoC staff for preserving and sharing this collection!

  8. Its a delight such persons live beyond their generation. He did inspire many then and now, bringing science to the public in a charming way.
    The gospel continues,may scientific facts, wonders and miracles be a personal spiritual and religious truth not just to scientists but to the masses.

  9. He inspired my entire life.

    I went to grad school 22 years, 17 trying to build warp Drive.

    I failed, but scientist do that I have learned in the very beautiful epilogue of a version of movie, “Awakenings”.

    Now advanced propulsion laboratory has code to study simulations of warp drive and Kerr has written on finite affine length in singularity avoiding Kerr hole. I wrote a paper with James Lindesay that showed evaporation occurred at different time than entry though separated by light ray of zero Minkowski space length and gave him an attaboy about finite affine length concept.

    I envision the direction of time plays a crucial part in being able to engineer Spacetime as Professors John Wheeler and Richard Feynman couldn’t finish due to WW2 Los Alamos. Their absorber theory was, however, not time asymmetric. Zeh pointed out action equals reaction would have action go back into the past. Zeh is dead now, perhaps one of you kids will amplify his work as I have tried.

    Trying is what we scientists do @per áspera ad astra”

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