Join Donate

Planetary RadioMarch 11, 2020

The Return of Cosmos and Ann Druyan

Download MP3

On This Episode
Ann Druyan portrait head shot
Ann Druyan

Executive Producer of Cosmos: Possible Worlds, and author of the companion book

Jason Davis thumbnail
Jason Davis

Editorial Director, The Planetary Society

Bruce Betts Head Shot 2015
Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager, The Planetary Society

Mat Kaplan
Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society

Cosmos: Possible Worlds is the third season of the beautiful, groundbreaking television series helmed by the late Carl Sagan’s widow and partner, Ann Druyan. Ann returns to tell us about the show and her new companion book of the same name. You might win a hardcover copy in this week’s What’s Up space trivia contest. The equinox edition of The Planetary Report has arrived! Planetary Society Editorial Director Jason Davis provides an overview.

Ann Druyan on the set of Cosmos: Possible Worlds

Lewis Jacobs / FOX

Ann Druyan on the set of Cosmos: Possible Worlds
Cosmos executive producer, writer and director Ann Druyan walks through a scene with Elizardo Torrez, who plays a young Carl Sagan, on set in his family's apartment.
Astronauts descending to a moon (Cosmos: Possible Worlds)

Cosmos Studios

Astronauts descending to a moon (Cosmos: Possible Worlds)
Astronauts, untethered and free to explore, make their descent to the moon of a possible world on a pioneering reconnaissance mission.
Earth with a ring system (Cosmos: Possible Worlds)

Cosmos Studios

Earth with a ring system (Cosmos: Possible Worlds)
Why do some worlds have rings, and others don't? Here, we imagine what our own planet would look like with a ring system.

Related Links

Trivia Contest

This week's prizes:

A Planetary Society r-r-r-rubber asteroid and a hardcover copy of Ann Druyan’s new book, Cosmos: Possible Worlds.

This week's question:

What is the second largest planetary moon in our solar system that orbits retrograde? (Neptune’s Triton is by far the largest.)

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at no later than Wednesday, March 18th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

Where in the solar system is there a feature named Bilbo?


The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the February 26 space trivia contest:

What was Rusty Schweickart’s call sign during his EVA on Apollo 9?


Rusty Schweickart’s EVA call sign during Apollo 9 was Red Rover.

Russell L. Schweickart Apollo 9 EVA


Russell L. Schweickart Apollo 9 EVA
NASA astronaut Russell L. Schweickart photographed during his EVA on the Apollo 9 Earth orbital mission in March 1969.


Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Cosmos returns, and so does Ann Druyan, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Have you seen it? Season three of Cosmos premiered March 9th on the National Geographic channel. This time, it's Cosmos: Possible Worlds, and judging from the first two episodes, some of those worlds will be wonderful places to live. Executive producer, writer, director, and guiding hand for the series, Ann Druyan, visits with us again. She'll also tell us about her just published companion book for the series. It's spectacular, and you'll get the chance to win a copy in this week's, What's Up segment.

A new edition of the Planetary Report also waits for you at Jason Davis will give us a preview in minutes. First, so I'm [00:01:00] proud to announce the long-awaited expansion of Jason's great weekly post, The Downlink. It still opens with mission briefings from around the solar system, but The Downlink now also contains notes from the Planetary Society, like, the announcement of the science communicator position we need to fill. You'll also find a brief What's Up section, and the Wow of the Week, something you just might wanna share. You can sign up to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox for free at, or you can view the latest edition at

And here's a sampling of the news items you'll find inside; Perseverance, that's the new name of what has been known only as the Mars 2020 rover. Congratulations to seventh grade student, Alexander Mather, for submitting the winning nomination and essay. NASA has cleared the wide field infrared survey telescope [00:02:00] for its next stage of development. As you may have heard, on the March space policy edition of our show, the Trump administration's 2021 budget proposal for NASA does not include funding for WFIRST, but it could be restored by Congress.

Psyche, the spacecraft that will make the first visit to a nickel iron asteroid, has a ride; a SpaceX Falcon Heavy will rocket it skyward in 2026. And though their results haven't yet been peer reviewed, a group of researches believes they have, for the first time, found a protein in a meteorite. There's evidence the big molecule is not just earthly contamination, but really did originate, well, some place else. Let's hear it directly now from the Planetary Society's editorial director, Jason Davis.

Jason, welcome back to the show. I- I... Maybe the first thing that we should talk about is, uh, why I'm not having this conversation with Emily Lakdawalla. [00:03:00] She is still very much with the society, no worries, anybody, uh, but there has been a bit of a change in staffing for TPR, so that Emily is, uh, able to, uh, go back to doing some other things. Can you, can you tell us what's up?

Jason Davis: Yeah. Turns out that, uh, editing a magazine is a very full-time position [laughs] ...

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Jason Davis: ... for one person, so, uh, it's a little overwhelming, uh, if, to have that as your entire job duty, and then also try to do other things. So, Emily won't be, uh, responsible for editing the magazine as a whole anymore. We now split it up into different parts, and I'll be editing the features. We have some other, uh, staffers who are responsible for some of the internal parts, like the Impact Report. So, yeah, no worries, Emily is still quite around.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Big phew, P-H-E-W. And, in fact, she has a contribution or two in this, uh, issue of the magazine, but let's start, maybe, by talking about this main feature. I don't think I've seen anything like this before in, uh, The Planetary Report.

Jason Davis: Yeah. The main feature, [00:04:00] uh, since it is 2020, we're starting a new decade, we thought this would be a good time to take a holistic look at planetary science in general, and talk about what we think is coming down the pipe for the next decade. This roughly coincides with the decadal survey, that's the report that the science community gets together and puts out, under the National Academies of Science, uh, every 10 years. that says, "Hey, here are the main things that we're gonna try to discover in these next 10 years, and we're gonna look at some of the missions that will accomplish those objectives."

Even though the decadal survey technically doesn't come out for another, uh, two years, they're working on it right now. We figured this would be a great idea if we went and talked to scientists representing each major field of planetary science, or maj- each major subgroup, and, uh, ask them to tell us about what cool science they're looking forward to.

Mat Kaplan: So what are these subgroups, and, and there's a piece about each one?

Jason Davis: Yeah. We've got Mercury, even though there's no technical subgroup for Mercury, we didn't want Mercury to feel left out [laughs], so we had [00:05:00] a very, very short piece of Mercury. Uh, we have one for Venus, and of course, there's a Venus exploration group for Venus, so that totally made sense to, to do that one separately. Uh, we've also got a Mars piece, we've got an outer planets piece, and so that just swamps in anywhere from, uh, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and all of their moons, because it's just such a diverse area of the solar system, you know. You have your gas giants, but then you also have these little moons that have complex geology that, uh, is worth exploring in their own right.

And then you also have small bodies, that's asteroids, comets, things like that. Finally, the moon. Can't forget the moon. That's, uh, a big part of NASA's human spaceflight program right now, and also a subgroup. So, yeah, we have all of that representative, uh, in one giant feature article, and I really hope our readers, uh, appreciate it and love it.

Mat Kaplan: And as always, there is much more than, uh, this main feature in the, uh, spring equinox, uh, edition of The Planetary Report. There are a couple of things that really hit me, and, even though they're kinda minor [00:06:00] pieces, you know, we, we have this regular piece, Why I Explore Now, and this time, it features a little essay from somebody that I got to know recently on Planetary Radio.

Jason Davis: Yeah. Uh, we got Sasha Sagan to contribute for this issue, and it's a really nice little story about, uh, her father and mother, and what it was like to grow up in such a science oriented household, and what inspired her to, um, ultimately explore some of this, um, herself. And, of course, yeah, you interviewed her, and she's got her new book out. So it's a really nice little piece, uh, that I hope our members will enjoy.

Mat Kaplan: Pretty good timing for us to mention that piece since her mother is going to be featured in moments on this, uh, this episode of Planetary Radio, uh, Ann Druyan, of course. I had just one other thing I'll mention. Um, the- there's so much more here in the magazine though, including, uh, where you'll find all those spacecraft around the, uh, solar system, that really popular, uh, graphic feature that was instituted by Emily not too long ago. There is something that really is charming to me, and it says something [00:07:00] about, uh, a major anniversary for The Planetary Society. It's this, uh, reproduction of typewritten notes from our founding executive director, Lou Friedman, that he typed up in August of 1979. You know what I'm talking about.

Jason Davis: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. This is super exciting to feature too. We featured this on the website a while back, and we just loved it so much, we wanted to make sure it got in the magazine as well. Uh, all of year long, we're gonna be celebrating the Planetary Society's 40th anniversary, which is pretty wild, uh, when you think about it. We've been around for 40 years now, s- since Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Lou Friedman founded us. And in this issue, we have one of the founding documents reprinted. It's the goals and objectives of what this blank society will be. And when I say blank, it i- it's literally in the document. It says, it starts out by saying ...

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Jason Davis: ...the goal of the blank society is to bring together ...

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Jason Davis: ...uh, various constituees, uh, constituencies to provide, uh, public opportunity for engagement and support space exploration. So, [00:08:00] they didn't even know what the name was gonna be yet when they wrote this first document. So, um, very cool, and I, I, I hope everyone enjoys that as well.

Mat Kaplan: Well, by the time you hear this, the entire edition, the, this entire issue of The Planetary Report, should be available to everybody at Of course, members of the Planetary Society will receive their beautiful printed copy of the magazine as well. Jason, thanks so much for coming back on to, uh, give us this little preview.

Jason Davis: Thanks so much, Mat, for having me.

Mat Kaplan: That's Jason Davis, the editorial director for The Planetary Society. Ann Druyan's relationship with the Planetary Society goes back nearly as far as her partnership with society co-founder, Carl Sagan. They worked together to create 1980's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which remains the most popular public television series ever in America. Cosmos returned in 2014 under Ann's guidance as Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, with [00:09:00] Neil deGrasse Tyson as our guide to life, the universe and everything. Now, six years later, Ann and her team are back with the third season, Cosmos: Possible Worlds. She has also launched a beautiful companion book of the same name.

The book and series consider far, far more than space exploration, but we space geeks will find plenty to satisfy us. Consider the cosmic telescope, an instrument that would use the bending of space and light described by Einstein, to reveal the surfaces of exoplanets. You'll see it in the series, along with an awe-inspiring imagining of the launch of thousands of tiny light sails toward a distant star. And then, far larger sails carrying humans across the void, through it all as recognition that humanity stands at a crossroads, with science pointing the best way forward.

I got up early on the morning of March 4th, so that I could catch Ann at the beginning of a full day of media [00:10:00] interviews. As you'll hear, she has promised to return when we can take more time to explore Cosmos, and do so over something better than a telephone connection. Ann Druyan, it is a pleasure and an honor to welcome you back to Planetary Radio. Thanks for joining us.

Ann Druyan: Mat, it's always a pleasure to talk with you. I love our conversations.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]. That is a very high complement, and it is especially gratifying to be able to talk to you about, um, this latest work, Cosmos: Possible Worlds. Here's a roundabout way of paying i- uh, it a high complement. And I'm talking first now about the TV series, though I'm very happy to say that I have the book in front of me. Since I couldn't make it to your Los Angeles screening of the, uh, the third season, your people were kind enough to let me enjoy the first two episodes online.

Ann Druyan: Wonderful.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]. Eh, [inaudible 00:10:53] but, oh, yeah, it really was.

Ann Druyan: I'm glad they did.

Mat Kaplan: I connected my iPad to our, our flat screen, [00:11:00] because I thought it really deserved to be seen on a big screen, and I was gonna watch the first episode intending to be on my treadmill as it played, I never pulled myself away from the TV. I stood three feet away ...

Ann Druyan: Oh.

Mat Kaplan: ...from it during the entire show. And then, that night, I watched it again with my equally enchanted wife, uh, and the second episode was just as awe-inspiring. You have accomplished something wonderful here.

Ann Druyan: Well, um, my heart is s- soaring to hear you say that,...

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Ann Druyan: ...because, uh, 'cause I've known you such a good long while, and I'm really excited that, that you and your wife enjoyed it. That, that thrills me.

Mat Kaplan: So, the premier of the third season, it's still ahead of us as, as you and I speak now, but the first episode will have aired by the time, uh, this episode of Planetary Radio is heard. Uh, I was looking at the comments about the trailer for the third season on YouTube, they are overwhelmingly positive. Have you seen the one, [00:12:00] there's a guy who said, "I need this science to be in liquid form, so I can inject it straight into my veins."

Ann Druyan: [laughs].

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Ann Druyan: Oh. No, I haven't seen that. Thank you for telling me. Wow. How gratifying this is. You know, the series is the work of 987 people, we actually literally counted, in so many countries around the world. The show is going to premier next week, or m- maybe last week of, when this broadcast ... uh, you know, 172 countries around the world, making it a truly global experience. And I can't tell you how so profoundly that moves me, because the dream of Cosmos is to empower absolutely everyone. And I think this is a moment of relatively low human self-esteem.

Mat Kaplan: Mmh.

Ann Druyan: And yet there's so much that we've accomplished that we can be proud of. Cosmos, in each [00:13:00] season, has been f- fused with hope. I hope it's s- rigorous science, no pie in the sky, but I know that we can do this. We can meet these challenges, and it's such a, such a thrill to be able to communicate that hope to such a truly vast audience on earth.

Mat Kaplan: I think you've answered, uh, a question I was going to ask you anyway, which was, your ... Was your focus in both the book, and the new season of the TV series more to provide information or to provide inspiration? I suspect it's the latter.

Ann Druyan: Equally. No, ...

Mat Kaplan: Mm.

Ann Druyan:'s two, equally. I think the information itself is empowering and goosebump-raising. I'm not a scientist, I'm just a hunter-gatherer of stories,...

Mat Kaplan: [laughs].

Ann Druyan: ...but I'm asked, you know, to have, uh, you know, to have the opportunity to not only pick the brains of people who know far more than [00:14:00] I do, a panel of very distinguished scientists, but also to vet both the show and the book, have been vetted, so that, you know, when I go awry, you know, they set me straight. So, the information is vital. And, you know, I always say that the ship of the imagination has twin engines of rigor and skepticism, and the engine of imagination and of hope. So, if I looked at the evidence, and I thought it was hopeless, I'd hope I would've be truthful about that, and re- the book would reflect that, and, you know, as dreary and sad as that would be. But, you know, everyone in your audience, every, every single person who can hear my voice and yours, is descended from people who had their backs to the wall countless times. This is why we're all here, because they endured hardships we can't even imagine. [00:15:00] And, I still believe, facing climate change, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, that, if we start taking science to heart, and what the scientists are telling us to heart, and act, we can still have the glorious future that's portrayed in the series, and the book.

Mat Kaplan: There are things in the television series, as well as the book, but it's the TV series, of course, that will probably, uh, receive the most public exposure, which are going to be disturbing to certain segments of, of society. I, I don't think that's anything that's new to you, but it does seem to show a certain level of courage o- on th- the part of National Geographic, and, and Fox, uh, who, uh, have stood behind this, this program over three seasons now.

Ann Druyan: That's absolutely true. And in fact, in the last two seasons, both networks have been my partner. I have produced 26 [00:16:00] hours of Cosmos, and I'm happy to say that there has never been a moment where they asked me to change a word or an idea throughout those 26 scripts. They have been the best of partners, and, uh, I'm really excited about the fact that, um, National Geographic, you know, my mother, and, every time a new issue of the magazine arrived when I was a little girl, my mother was so in love with, with the world, we would turn every page, she would read aloud to me, and we'd read together when I was able. You know, it has an emotional resonance to me that they have been such great partners, and that they are distributing the series in so many countries around the world.

Mat Kaplan: You know, returning to, uh, things like the cosmic calendar, your, your compression of the universe's history into a single year, it's like returning to an old friend. I mean, it takes us back not just t- to [00:17:00] the previous seasons in, in this incarnation of Cosmos, but, but back to the beginning, and your, and your partnership with Carl.

Ann Druyan: Ah. Well, it ... This c- you know, the cosmic calendar was Carl's vision. It was part of his lifelong campaign to make the revelations of science as accessible as possible to all of us. For me, in trying to wrap my brain around, what is 13.8 billion years really, to us [inaudible 00:17:29] to live for 100 years at the most? Carl came up with that. When you see it at a glance, years calendar, and to understand, and it ... Because we know a little bit about what it feels l- what a year feels like, but this vast expanses of time are just completely beyond our capacity to imagine. Uh, it has unrivaled explanatory power. I- I've never found anything that was better, and so, the, the time skips of the cosmic calendar have been subject [00:18:00] to revision since the first Cosmos.

Back then, the scientific consensus was that the universe was 18 billions of years o- old. And so, it's the universe has become younger, but that's the great strengths of science, is that in the face of, of new evidence, science is willing to change its view of the age of the universe or anything, as long as the new evidence is stronger than the evidence we had before.

Mat Kaplan: Speaking of Carl, it's, it's still thrilling to hear his voice joining Neil deGrasse Tyson's at the, at critical junctures in the show. I mean, for those of us who grew up with him, and, and learning from him, and trusting him, it's, it's wonderful to be able to hear it again.

Ann Druyan: There are magical moments in, in the episodes. I thought it was a good idea to weave Carl's voice throughout the series, because that [00:19:00] magnificent voice, and so tender, and yet so truthful, and so, so wise, is that, it's, it's just a- another, adds another dimension to the series. Carl was, in many ways, very ... And he was prophetic. Not that he was, in any way, more or less than a human being, he was just a human being, but, he saw clearly. He used his science to see clearly, and to call attention to the, not only like blooming opportunities and wonders, but also the [inaudible 00:19:38] dangerous. You know, I was, I actually always get a catch in my throat, many times, for tears, when I hear Carl's voice, because, it reminds me of his enormous goodness, and the beauty of his life. And so, it just seemed right to, to have him [00:20:00] with me, um, in the series.

Mat Kaplan: I'll be right back with Ann Druyan and more about Cosmos: Possible Worlds.

Debra Fischer: Hi, I'm Yale astronomer, Debra Fischer. I've spent the last 20 years of my professional life searching for other worlds. Now I've taken on the 100 Earths Project. We want to discover 100 earth-sized exoplanets circling nearby stars. It won't be easy. With your help, The Planetary Society will fund a key component of an exquisitely precise spectrometer. You can learn more and join the search at Thanks.

Mat Kaplan: There was so much of that, that duality, uh, of vision in both the book and the TV series. I'm, I- I'm thinking of your vision of this spectacular 2039 World's Fair that is in, in both works, in, in print and in the, uh, television series. [laughs] You obviously picked 2039, uh, for a very good reason. Could you talk about that?

Ann Druyan: [00:21:00] Yes. Well, Carl, when Carl and I first got to know each other, he, he told me, and later wrote eloquently, about the fact that his parents, working class, living in a small apartment in Brooklyn, back when Brooklyn wasn't the place he wanted to live, and, um, when he was five years old, they took him to the 1939th New York World's Fair. It was actually Einstein's first words in the opening of the fair that inspired, inspired me to write the series and the book. And I'll save those words, uh, for the show and the reader, but Carl said later that, when he went to the fair, he was very upset because his parents brought a brown bag lunch, they couldn't afford even the fancy, uh, d- uh, dessert, or, or the tchotchkes that were everywhere at the fair, which he desperately wanted, but it was there that he discovered, [00:22:00] if there was such a thing as a future event, that the only way to get to it was science.

And then Neil had a, a, a similar e- experience around the same age. I think he was six, when he was taken to the 1964 World's Fair on the very same site in Queens, that which was right near where I grew up. I was a little bit older than Neil, but I was at that fair almost weekly for that technicolor joy of all the great things we were going to do in cities as in the 1939 World's Fair, cities of the future depicted without any slums, any poverty, everyone would have what they needed. That was very inspiring to me. And so, in imagining a dream of a near future, I wanted to create a New York World Fair of 2039; what that would be like, how we could use [00:23:00] our science with wisdom to solve the f- challenges we, we face, and that how art and science could combine to create a new colossus in New York Harbor. Well, I was very lucky in that I was working with Brandon Braga, and Kyle, oh, Walter, [inaudible 00:23:20] and, um, bunch of brilliant cinematographers and visual effects geniuses.

What happened was, we were able, with a cast of, of hundreds, to create that, that 2039 World's Fair, in which some of the daunting problems that we face now, have been dealt with, and we're ready to move further out into the cosmos.

Mat Kaplan: It really is a, a wonderful vision, and it's a, it, it is in the book as well. There's another scene that I knew I was going to see, because yeah, as you know, I had a delightful conversation with your daughter Sasha, [00:24:00] Sasha Sagan, two conversations actually, about her really touching, and, and very perceptive book, For Small Creatures Such As We. So, I wasn't surprised when she showed up in an episode. Would you describe that scene? It, it must have had special meaning for you.

Ann Druyan: Yes, very special meaning. You know, there's a drawing that Carl made at as an 11 or 12 year old, which is called the evolution of interstellar flight.

Mat Kaplan: Hmm.

Ann Druyan: And he did it in that little apartment in Brooklyn, on, what I imagine is a kind of ragged living room rug. It was the unfolding of our exploration of the cosmos as depicted on the newspaper, um, mastheads and headlines of the future, and how that would unfold as we moved further and further out into the cosmos. Well, Carl had a extraordinary [00:25:00] mother, Rachel, who really was part of, of why he became who you became. And, even though Sasha was born, uh, after Rachel's death, and they never met, Carl and I were, uh, fascinated by the fact that when she started laughing, she had Rachel's unique laugh.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Ann Druyan: And, how could that this happens, you know. It was one of those, uh, you know, astonishing things where you realize that, maybe it's a little more n- nature than nurture than you like to think.

Mat Kaplan: Mmh. [laughs]

Ann Druyan: And, um, and so, when I was imagining that moment when he made that drawing as a child, that drawing which is now in the collection of the Library of Congress of the United States, I imagined Rachel there in the apartment with him, lovingly working on. And, of course, Sasha was the perfect person to play Rachel to bring her back to life. Sasha is not only, uh, [00:26:00] I think, and then I declare my bias as her mother.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs]

Ann Druyan: I couldn't be more proud of her book, which, which just, I think is a tremendous achievement. She is also, it turns out, a really good actress, and she, uh, and an actor are playing Carl's father's, Sam, gets to take little Carl Sagan to the 1939 World's Fair in this series, and, uh, she appears throughout. So, it was wonderful to work with her and to direct her, that was a thrill.

Mat Kaplan: It is a lovely scene in that little Brooklyn apartment. A- and, this is gonna sound a little over the top, but, but I think I can make the case that this is the most beautiful documentary series ever made. And,...

Ann Druyan: Stop.

Mat Kaplan: ...[laughs] I, I wish I had a ... We're, we're gonna run short of time here, I wish I had more time to talk about it, but with you, but, uh, for example, I mean, it almost opens with these two black [00:27:00] holes that are in this, this spiral of, I don't know, [inaudible 00:27:04] probably not a death spiral, um, it's almost a birth spiral, but they are ... You can actually see that they are dragging space and light along with them as they spiral around each other. And I think it's an example that is j- just repeated so many times throughout, uh, what I've seen of the TV series, and in the book as well, of, of how closely related science and art are.

Ann Druyan: Yes. And that brings me back, uh, to Einstein's opening of the New York World's Fair. You know, what he said that rainy night in Queens, to 200,000 people who had gathered to hear him speak, and then to see 10 cosmic rays pull out from the sky, and convert it into the energy that would, at the flick of a switch, be the greatest illumination in history, this is what he said, he said, "If science will ever [00:28:00] fulfill its mission as fully as art, its inner meaning will have to penetrate into the consciousness of the people." That is the dream of Cosmos in every one of its three seasons. And, that is the dream that I hold in my heart for our civilization, that science and art, not at odds with each other, not one looking down on the other, but each working together, these great, these two great powers of humanity, that they will join together to create a future that is not only livable, but thrilling.

And so, that's my inspiration o- for this, is the idea that every one of us will be empowered by having some of this knowledge within, and it will make us better decision makers, better citizens, more able to know when we're being lied to, because we humans are terrible liars. We lie [00:29:00] to each other, we lie to ourselves, our leaders lie to us chronically. We have to be clear eyed at this moment in our history, if we are the link in the chain of generations that comes before us, and that leads to the future, it's up to us to awaken to what the scientists have been telling us for, uh, 70 or 100 years, about our climate, about our environment, about biodiversity. We have to take those things to heart instead of compartmentalizing them into 40 minutes of boredom or terror, a few times a week.

Mat Kaplan: To quote somebody, uh, "The truth will set you free."

Ann Druyan: That's it.

Mat Kaplan: Hmm.

Ann Druyan: That's it.

Mat Kaplan: Here's another scene which, um, listeners to this program are going to love. Uh, there's a happy little girl, she's skipping along, along a field of grass, but it just happens that she's under a vast transparent dome on Mars.

Ann Druyan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mat Kaplan: And, uh, she [00:30:00] Look up, she's skipping, by the way, in reduced gravity, the third, one third G of, uh, of the Martian gravity field.

Ann Druyan: Yep.

Mat Kaplan: And she looks up, and she waves, and there is this great ship that appears to be setting out for the stars.

Ann Druyan: Yes, I love that ship, it had multi-generational interstellar liner, which is, by the way, only, uh, one of the conveyances, one of many conveyances that we imagined...

Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Ann Druyan: ...are into, ju- making our way through the cosmos. And, what I love about that liner, first of all, is I've never seen a spacecraft of the future that looked quite like that one, but also, it's to, i- i- i- it conveys the scale of great undertaking. In this moment of very low human self esteem, it's a reminder of what we can do if we work together, and if we refuse to be manipulated, and to be, you know, uh, in [00:31:00] any way, driven off better paths for our world. So, I love that because, you know, as a child, I've sailed on ocean liners, which, to me then, were cutting edge, and filled with excitement, promise of adventure, promise of new worlds, and that's what we hope the audience will feel when they see that mighty ship making its way to the stars.

Mat Kaplan: I'm gonna use one of my precious minutes, uh, to follow up on something, uh, that I noticed, uh, there, it appeared that that multi-generational ship, it had this strange whirling drive unit at its rear end.

Ann Druyan: Yes.

Mat Kaplan: And, that looked, to me, like an homage to the giant wormhole generator in the film version of a story I loved called Contact.

Ann Druyan: Yes. Well, there were echoes of Contact in that idea. I, uh, I have to give credit to our brilliant, uh, VFX supervisor, [00:32:00] Jeff Balkan, who worked with, I believe it was a VFX house in Australia, one of the many international houses we worked with. I wanted uh, a means of propulsion that made sense, but was unlike any other that we've seen before, and that's what we got, and I loved it. I also love the idea that the ship itself reminds me of a whale fall, at the bones of a whale at the bottom of the sea, in a way.

Mat Kaplan: Yes.

Ann Druyan: And so, I, I just loved everything that Jeff came up with. One of the, one of the things that I found breathtaking, was that moment in, in episode two, which will also be shown the first night with episode one, was that scene of, of the bloated sun in the distant future, stripping away a magnificent cloud to Jupiter, uh, a- and, and, I, I ... There were so many things that Jeff accomplished, things that always [00:33:00] wanted to see, and now could, thanks to him.

Mat Kaplan: We are going to give short shrift to the book, because, Ann, uh, we are almost out of time. I, I assume that you are, uh, spending the entire day talking to folks like me, but let me just say that the book is equally wonderful. It is full of heroes in the if, eh ... And there are a few scoundrels in here too. Could you take just a moment ... Uh, we'll let one of these sort of stand in for all the others in the book, and if you would say a few words about Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, what a hero.

Ann Druyan: What a hero. Vavilov, a founder, one of the founders of the field of genetics, who rushed back to Russia to play a part in, in the revolutionary change in Russia, once the revolution took place. He dreamed that peasant children, and the children of the poor would become scientists, and he founded 400 scientific institutions. One of them [00:34:00] was his own Institute where he, after expeditions around the world to five continents, gathered the mother seeds of our plants. He was one of the first people to understand the importance of biodiversity. He was really ... Everything was fine until Stalin took power and fell under the spell of a scoundrel named Trofim Lysenko, who was a pseudo scientist who sold Stalin a bill of goods about how Russia, eh, had starved on so many [inaudible 00:34:36], eh, uh occasions in history, would have a winter wheat crop, which would end these terrible famines that had rocked Russia.

He wanted to sow wheat seeds in ice water, and somehow Stalin believed him. And as Lysenko took over Soviet science, uh, doing, i- uh, my Soviet [00:35:00] biology for decades with this pseudo science, Vavilov knew that if he publicly took on, uh, Lysenko, he would be doomed. Colleagues, friends had already been executed, arrested, disappeared, and yet, at a public scientific congress, he stood up and he said, "You can take me to the stake, you can set me on fire, but you can't make me lie about science." Well, if he knew he was giving himself a death sentence, and this man who dreamed of it, ending world hunger, which was the guiding impulse that made him do his science, was starved to death and tortured by his colleagues, the [but-nis 00:35:47] at his institute. There were hundreds of thousands of seeds and tubers collected from all over the world. They withstood a three years siege of what is now [00:36:00] Saint Petersburg, one of the worst siege in history by the German forces, and yet they didn't consume any of the treasure of seeds that, that had been collected.

And, they all died of starvation at their death, and the question was, why did they do that? They did it because they believe there would be a future when the world would return to its senses, and these seeds would be vital to the world's food supply, as I write in the book, if only we cared about our own future as much as they do.

Mat Kaplan: There is so much more in the book, but we're on borrowed time now I mean, quantum mechanics, the brain, uh, something that you call a worldwide web that is actually a living thing, utterly fascinating. Your last chapter is titled, A possible world. It's very personal, even, even intimate. Uh, eh, you describe the love [00:37:00] that you shared with Carl, and the world that the two of you created, but it also has an optimistic vision of a, of a possible world as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old girl. It seems to be a fitting clothes for, for this book, that, um, is so, at least to me, so inspiring.

Ann Druyan: What I just ask everyone to remember is that Carl Sagan as a child living a subsistence life, dreamed of the unfolding of interstellar flight. And as a grown man, he was one of the leaders of our first mission to the stars. Think of how unlikely that is. And, I also believe that the great future that we can still have, may seem unlikely at this moment, but if we work for it as hard as he did, I think it can happen.

Mat Kaplan: Ann, can we do this again, and I hope soon, when things quiet down a little bit? I've, I've got lots more questions that [00:38:00] I sure would love to ask you, and I think our audience would, uh, love to hear you answer.

Ann Druyan: I'm happy to do it as soon as possible, Mat. I always enjoy talking with you. And, uh, please, please, let's do it again as soon as we can.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you so much. Ann Druyan, Cosmos: Possible Worlds is airing now on the National Geographic Channel. The book is available everywhere great books are sold, and you'll have the chance to win it in minutes.

Time for, What's up on Planetary Radio, we are joined by the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, that's Bruce Betts. And, he's going to tell us about the night sky, but before he does, here's a message for you from our listener, one of our many listeners actually, in Sweden, Ola Franzen, can you please tell Bruce to stop hogging all the clear skies, I want to play with my new telescope.

Bruce Betts: [laughs] Wai- uh, I, I, I, uh ... All you had to do is ask, poof. Uh, it may take a couple days, but it is now cloudy and rainy here in Southern [00:39:00] California, so, good luck. And a shout out to my third cousins in Sweden, who I haven't talked to in 30 years.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] There you go Ola. Uh, v- v- voila. Uh, that's not Swedish by the way.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Um, tell us, tell us, if we could see it, because it's cloudy and rainy down here too, what would we see up there?

Bruce Betts: Oh gosh, such a wonderful cornucopia of planets, if, if that's a thing. I mean, it is now. So, in the morning, East, pre-dawn, morning East, four planets, if you can actually see towards the horizon. So, going from upper right to lower left, you've got reddish Mars, bright, bright Jupiter, and then yellow is Saturn. And they're all quite close together. And then, much farther down to the lower left is Mercury if you've got a clear view to the horizon. Now, the three are going to be doing a little dance, and Mars is going to be getting closer to Jupiter. It'll be closest right [00:40:00] around March 20th, and then Mars will slip between Jupiter and Saturn. So, all very tightly clustered, but wait, don't order yet, the crescent moon will join the gang on March 18th, uh, one night only, and, uh, it will be a lovely grouping. So, that's the pre-dawn East.

In the evening West, we've got super bright Venus, very high up, easy to see. It is actually coming into a nice line with a couple o' bright stars, so, it will line up with Aldebaran, the bright star in Taurus, and Betelgeuse in Orion, and then the crescent moon will join them on March 28th, with the Pleiades also, the star cluster Pleiades, hanging out between, a little above and between the crescent moon and Venus. So, it's just, it's a festival of planets.

Onto this weekend space history; 1958, Vanguard one was launched. It holds the details [00:41:00] distinction of being the longest thing still in Earth orbit. Stopped working a long time ago, but it's still on Earth orbit. And then, 2011, Messenger went into orbit around Mercury. Pretty amazing feed first time that was done. We move on to Random Space Fact.

Mat Kaplan: Wow. [laughs] Mr. Pavarotti called, he wants to know if you're available this weekend. [laughing]

Bruce Betts: I'm a little uncomfortable with that. So, anyway, Triton, moon of Neptune, dominates the Neptunian moon system. How much does it dominate? It has over 99.5% of the total mass of the Neptune moon system. It may have actually done a little bit o' nastiness after it got captured by Neptune, increasing those numbers by, uh, eliminating some of [00:42:00] Neptune, Naptune's, Neptune's original satellites.

Mat Kaplan: You know what a ... A Naptune, that's the song you fall asleep to.

Bruce Betts: [laughs] Well played, sir.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, thank you.

Bruce Betts: Uh, we move on to the [crosstalk 00:42:14], to the trivia contest, and I asked you a, in a another serious question, what was Rusty Schweikart call sign during his extra vehicular activity on Apollo nine? How'd we do, Mat?

Mat Kaplan: This was really fun. And I'm gonna let, Dave Fairchild, our poet laureate in Kansas, his first line response with what we got from a whole bunch of people, and it was stated exactly this way, "Red rover, red rover, let Schweikart come over. He flew on Apollo, that's nine. Although he was sick, he performed it just slick, and his EVA worked out just fine."

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Red rover, I mean, at the time, he still had very red hair. Although, uh, John [Bi-ri-li 00:42:57] says that no doubt if Rusty did the EVA [00:43:00] today, he'd be using white rover, which is, which is true.

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Looks very distinguished.

Bruce Betts: Yes, indeed it does.

Mat Kaplan: And here's our winner, because none of those people, I'm sorry to say, were chosen by, it is first time winner, Tim Livingston in, uh, Oklahoma, uh, who responded with, Red rover, and he has won himself a Planetary Radio T-shirt from Chop Shop, where The Planetary Society store is,, and a Planetary Society r-r-r-r-r-rubber asteroid. If you could stretch it out, so can I. Um ... [laughing]

Bruce Betts: [laughs]

Mat Kaplan: Congratulations, Tim, uh, and, we're, we're very happy for you. A lot of people, fair number of people, are confused, Rusty's call sign with the unofficial call sign for the lunar module that Rusty worked with. It was called spider. So, this from Benton, uh, Baki in Minnesota have the spider in Apollo nine been fully loaded in standard configuration, [00:44:00] it would have weighed about 90,000 times as much as the largest spider, the Goliath bird eater.

Bruce Betts: [laughs] That sounds terrifying.

Mat Kaplan: It really does, doesn't it? It eats birds, which is like, I, eh, don't ever, ever want to see this even, if it's jetted behind glass.

Bruce Betts: [laughing]

Mat Kaplan: Finally from another Swedish listener, Bjorn [Get-up 00:44:23], "Interesting fact that I found is that his EVA helmet was the only space helmet he could find colored red." At NASA, at least. It's true, I looked it up. Eh, what a great bit of trivia. Rusty's, you knew this, Rusty's helmet was red.

Bruce Betts: There's so much for next week's Random Space Fact.

Mat Kaplan: [laughs] Sorry.

Bruce Betts: Yes. Now there's a great picture, as I'm sure you saw, from the command module of him poking out of the lunar module with the, with the red helmet.

Mat Kaplan: It's great. I ... And it didn't, it wasn't hard to search for. Maybe we'll put it on the, uh, show page, uh, this week. [00:45:00] I ... With that, we're ready to go on.

Bruce Betts: Neptune's Triton that we w- talked about earlier, by far the largest solar system moon to orbit Retrograde, too easy a question to ask you that. So, I'm asking you, what is the second largest planet moon in the solar system to orbit Retrograde, in other words, the opposite direction of the planet's rotation? Go to

Mat Kaplan: You have until the 18th, that's March 18, at 8:00 AM, Pacific Time, to get the answer to this one. You may have to dig, it sounds like, might take some work, but, we're going to make it worth your while, because in addition to a Planetary Society rubber asteroid, you will get a hardcover copy of Ann Druyan's, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, the sequel to Carl Sagan's beloved classic. It is exactly the beautiful book that I just s- spent a bunch of time talking with, uh, Ann about. I recommended very highly as you've heard. [00:46:00] We're done.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody, go out there, look up the night sky and think about, what color would you want your EVA helmet to be? Thank you, and good night.

Mat Kaplan: They're already bald, so, I don't really ... It doesn't really matter. I mean, flash colored. I don't know. I ... He's Bruce Betts, he has a luxurious, full head of hair, and as the chief scientist of The Planetary Society who joins us every week here for What's up.

Planetary radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its Cosmos exploring members. Join us in the ships of imagination and reality by visiting Mark Hilverda, our associate producer, Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad Astra.

View Full Transcript

Listen more: interview, Planetary Radio, explaining science, The Planetary Report

You are here:
Comments & Sharing
Bill Nye and people
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Mat Kaplan
Support Planetary Radio

Keep our weekly radio program broadcasting online and on the air around the world.