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Share Your Story • Paul Spivack • July 10, 2019

I never met Carl Sagan but.......

I never met Carl Sagan but.......

On my 70th birthday, July 3, 2019, I found myself in Ithaca, NY. It's been maybe 20 or 25 years since I was last there, visiting Cornell and environs, where I received my BA degree in 1971. Carl Sagan was on the faculty during my undergraduate years, but I don’t think I knew of him, nor do I think I ever met him. As a freshman, I was a physics major with a goal of particle physics or astrophysics but that was to change.

I always had an interest in space, with my first memories watching failed Vanguard launches and successful Explorer in 1958. During those early years I had the good fortune to make several visits to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Then came Mercury and Gemini through my junior and senior high school years. And of course, Apollo.

In college my outlook of the future changed. It was the Vietnam war and social change that led me to first change my major to political science. And then a personal tragedy that subtly but forcefully turned me to medicine. So I became a pediatrician with a long and successful career.

Still I always paid attention to what was happening in planetary and space science, following our wonderful robotic missions and hoping we hadn’t squandered too much with the ISS project. I’m a regular listener to the Planetary Radio podcast but a very poor stargazer.

After retiring in 2016, my energies were taken up with helping my wife navigate some difficult medical problems. Also I was grateful to be able to help her pursue her many passions despite physical and psychological constraints. She died last year which was a terrible blow. But now I am rebuilding a life, and perhaps going back to my “roots.”

That brings me to now. Visiting Cornell made me aware of what I am missing. I visited Carl Sagan’s grave before leaving town and heading back to my home in Bedford, NH. Today I (finally) joined the Planetary Society. After attending a “sky watch” last night at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center (our local planetarium/space museum), I joined the NH Astronomical Society, and plan to attend meetings and learn how to use their telescopes at their dark sky site in southern NH.

And most importantly, I’ve pulled my Celestron Astromaster 114 out of storage and with the help the the Astronomical Society community, I will finally put it to use.

So thanks to the whole planetary and astronomical community for just being there, waiting for me. I never met Carl Sagan, but…..

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