Carl Sagan Archive Opens at U.S. Library of Congress

The legacy of the famed astrobiologist and science communicator Carl Sagan is now available to people around the world.

Image 1: A portrait of Carl Sagan included in the archive housed by the Library of Congress. Credit: Eduardo Castaneda

Image 2: Drawing of “The Evolution of Interstellar Flight” by the young Carl Sagan (c. 10-13 years old). Credit: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The new Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive opened to the public Tuesday (Nov. 12) during a celebration of Sagan’s life here at the Library of Congress. Members of the public and researchers will now have the chance to examine the collection.

The archive is composed of 1,705 boxes of material that once belonged to Sagan and his widow, Ann Druyan. MacFarlane — the creator of the animated TV show “Family Guy” and producer of the new “Cosmos” (a series originally hosted by Sagan) — provided money, making it possible for the Library of Congress to complete the archive.

"I’ve been affected and inspired by the work that Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan have been doing since I was a kid," MacFarlane told reporters Tuesday. "When I found out that this was being discussed, and having the papers [installed] in the Library of Congress was something that was being considered, I thought, ‘Well, here’s some small way I can give back to these folks who have given so much to me and so many science enthusiasts and the general public.’"

The archive includes thousands of Sagan’s documents, including his childhood report cards, a drawing he made as a kid and letters he wrote to colleagues and students. The archive also features an original letter Sagan and Druyan wrote to Warner Brothers’ production team about what would become the movie “Contact.”

"For me, what I’ve been seeing over the last 17 years is an exponential, propagating interest in Carl," Druyan said of Sagan, who died in 1996 at the age of 62. "Most of the mail that I receive, email I receive, is from very young teenagers, 20-somethings, and this is global. I’m very proud."

The Library of Congress plans to digitize the contents of the Carl Sagan archive, although that will take time, officials said. Some photos of the documents are available online now, but the archive can be seen in original form at the library.

Many researchers working in planetary science, astronomy and other scientific fields today were influenced by Sagan’s work in the public arena. One of those scientists was Bill Nye — a former student of Sagan’s who went on to host the popular TV show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

"Although it was a class about astronomy, my final paper was about pseudoscience, a topic seemingly unrelated to the stars," Nye told the crowd at the Library of Congress Tuesday. "Carl Sagan wanted us — wanted me — to know and appreciate the process of science much more than the facts of astronomy. He made me a skeptic. He made me a critical thinker. He changed me."

MacFarlane and Druyan also plan to honor Sagan’s legacy with their reboot of “Cosmos,” set to premiere on Fox in 2014. MacFarlane and Druyan are executive producers of the new 13-part series, which is officially titled “COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey” and hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

"The goal of the series … is the same as the original," MacFarlane said. "I’m paraphrasing, but at one point, I remember reading a quote from Carl in which he said, ‘I want people who have no interest in science to watch this program just because it’s completely entertaining and engaging.’ That’s kind of the way we’re looking at this series."