Back in 1976, Carl Sagan appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” to share a fascinating concept: solar sailing. He presented a “crude model” to illustrate the space exploration idea for Carson, captivating the studio audience and people around the world.
Last night, Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” In a nod to Sagan (Bill’s Astronomy professor at Cornell University), Bill unveiled his own shiny version of a crude model.
Not unlike the Sagan-Carson encounter, Bill discussed solar sailing with Colbert, highlighting The Planetary Society’s successful LightSail® 1 test and the imminent LightSail 2 mission, which will launch into space aboard a Space X Falcon Heavy Rocket.
In 1980, Carl Sagan cofounded The Planetary Society with Louis Friedman, who wrote the book on solar sailing, and Bruce Murray. Among other endeavors to advance space science and exploration, they galvanized public support for solar sailing. They displayed an enormous solar sail model in the bustling lobby of New York’s Rockefeller Center. They championed and attempted solar sailing missions. In 2015, The Planetary Society’s longtime dream of a successful solar sailing mission was realized. Led by CEO Bill Nye and the LightSail® team, thousands of citizen supporters celebrated the LightSail 1 test launch.
While more than 40 years have passed since Sagan and Carson talked solar sailing, the concept has only gained momentum, unfolding (quite literally) into a new era of space exploration. New generations of solar sailing and space science dreamers have arrived. And they know they can accomplish extraordinary feats through science, engineering, collaboration, and their creativity. As Bill Nye says, “space brings out the best in us.” Everyone is welcome to join LightSail 2’s journey.