Billions and Billions....OK, make that 29 years ago
March 23, 2009 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage premiered on PBS on September 28, 1980. (Previously). With Carl Sagan as guide, on a "cosmic journey across space and time," on a "spaceship of the imagination," few shows inspired as many people to investigate science, many of whom went on to be scientists.

It was the most-watched PBS series in history before Ken Burns's The Civil War and won three prime time Emmys and a Peabody Award.

As Astronomy magazine said upon Sagan's death in 1996, "The universe lost one of its best friends a few days before Christmas 1996," and "he accomplished more to interest the public in astronomy and space exploration than anyone else of his time."

All thirteen episodes of Cosmos are now streaming online, thanks to
posted by waitingtoderail (38 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed from within the United States

Who speaks for Earth?
posted by mazola at 3:57 PM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

thanks to

Unless you're somewhere outside of the U.S., goddamnit.
posted by Curry at 3:59 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I, for one, welcome our new xenophobic Hulu overlords.
posted by jester69 at 4:05 PM on March 23, 2009

Curry: "Unless you're somewhere outside of the U.S., goddamnit."

And that's the case for billions of people.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:09 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm the one weird guy who doesn't find spiritual significance in shit floating around in space.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 4:09 PM on March 23, 2009

Who speaks for Earth?

That would be the United States. I'm sorry you had to find out like this.
posted by The Tensor at 4:15 PM on March 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

Billions and Billions

Sagan never actually uses this exact phrase anywhere in Cosmos. Go ahead, watch the whole thing and check. He says "billions" a lot, but never "billions and billions". The phrase comes directly from Johnny Carson's good-natured parody of Sagan.

Sagan is a hero of mine. If atheism/secular humanism somehow could have saints, he would be Saint #1. He was a wonderful, brilliant man. If you've never seen Cosmos before, you really should - it's one of the cultural touchstones of the recent years of our civilization. No one before or since has explained the awesome complexity of the universe in such an accessible, anyone-can-understand way.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:17 PM on March 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

The wonder in the cosmos isn't that there is stuff floating around in space.

The wonder in the cosmos is that it exists with some kind of organization at all and the fact that you can write down a page of equations that explain most of the behavior of it all.

That and the fact that corduroy pants and turtlenecks are appropriate to wear in both spaceships of the imagination and the library of Alexandria.
posted by sien at 4:21 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cosmos was formative for me. Thanks Carl, Mom, and Dad!

And PBS!
posted by everichon at 4:26 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dude, I'm a previous!!!
posted by thanotopsis at 4:27 PM on March 23, 2009

I was in fourth grade when Cosmos was first aired on PBS and I never missed an episode. It fueled my interest in science more than other program before, or since. A couple of years ago I checked out the DVDs from the library and re-watched all 13 episodes over the course of three evenings. It holds up really well.

In conclusion, I miss Carl Sagan. If he were still alive I'd want him to hold a cabinet position in Obama's administration.
posted by Ratio at 4:29 PM on March 23, 2009

I'm not in the US. What sort of anonymizer-proxy-whatever hack can you recommend so I can watch this?
posted by chillmost at 4:30 PM on March 23, 2009

'To create an apple pie from scratch, you first must create the universe'
posted by PenDevil at 4:32 PM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I earned a couple of credits in college to watch Cosmos, even years after it at been aired. I attended a seminar by him some years later in San Diego. He was so erudite and affable it was like listening to your learned uncle chatting in your living room. He is also a hero of mine. Great find.
posted by elendil71 at 4:32 PM on March 23, 2009

Tips here on how to watch Hulu outside the US.
posted by waitingtoderail at 4:33 PM on March 23, 2009

Unless you're somewhere outside of the U.S.

Yeah sure, like there really is an outside the US. That'd be awesome, like Stargate.
posted by mattoxic at 4:41 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

And I'm the guy who can never quite grasp what "spiritual" really means.

Also, I really miss Carl Sagan.
posted by belvidere at 4:52 PM on March 23, 2009

According to my parents, Cosmos sent me into a bout of kiddie depression for a week. Apparently this was due to me not understanding that the Sun wasn't going to turn into a red giant in my lifetime.
posted by keep_evolving at 4:53 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

norabarnacl3, I am somehow not surprised.

I started reading -- okay, coloring with crayons, but reading very shortly thereafter -- my parents' copy of Cosmos the hardback when I was three, and they let me have it. I loved that book till it fell apart. Later in life, I found that many other people also took to it at about the same age.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:01 PM on March 23, 2009

Carl Sagan was extraordinarily good at making Astronomy and Physics relevant for the average joe without either dumbing it down to the nth degree or talking down the audience. Further he was able to impart a sense of wonder to the subject that made a significant impression on me as a young 6 year old. The fact that he was able to speak to me as a kid and to an audience of older PBS viewers was a special gift indeed.

Interesting enough public television had a large number of presenters during that time period that could really excite the curiosity. David Attenborough did that with his nature programs (and is still doing it), James Burke was able to do with his history series, and there was some crazy bearded guy who did it with Dinosaurs.

It seems that Neil Degrasse Tyson has sort of inherited Sagan's role as physics and astronomy expert to the masses, but I just don't connect to him nearly as much as I enjoyed Sagan. I guess they both had a degree of self-promotion but Sagan seemed more subtle about it than Neil does.
posted by vuron at 5:03 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Carl Sagan wasn't "just" a scientist with a passion for divulgation and awe insipiring daydreaming, as if those qualities weren't enough to admire the man.

He was also quite a pragmatist, very worried by the prospect of a Nuclear Winter.

For those among you too young to remember, not so many years ago (between 1980 and 90) there was a lot of talk going on about the atmospheric effects of a series of nuclear explosions resulting from a prolonged war. Among the possible scenarios, that of a nuclear winter (sharp and prolonged decrease of global average temperature) caused by projection of particles in the atmosphere. Quoting Sagan
Even much smaller temperature declines are known to have serious consequences. The explosion of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 was the probable cause of an average global temperature decline of less than 1°C, due to the obscuration of sunlight by the fine dust propelled into the stratosphere. The hard freezes the following year were so severe that 1816 has been known in Europe and America as, respectively, "the year without a summer," and "eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death." A 1°C cooling would nearly eliminate wheat growing in Canada.
Unlike the "terror" threat, which is mostly a a product of mass manipulation based on a single catastrophic event (9/11), the possibility of having multiple warheads detonate at the same time was considered as quite realistic, as many world leaders of the past had a track record of being a bunch of mass murders affected by delusions of omnipotence and the memory of the massacre of the second world war was still quite present in many minds, including that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

It was a fantastic time for the miltary industrial complex, that was quite interested into selling more missles and more armaments. At the same time, people started realizing, also thanks to Sagan, the insanity of waging a nuclear war and that no one could have possibly won a war resulting in global annihilation ; that helped dispelling some of the effects of a persistant propaganda suggesting that any price, including a nuclear war, was a price worth paying if that could have saved our "freedom". Anything including death by nuclear detonation was better than surrendering to the enemy, an "honourable" way to die.

After watching Sagan's work, I urge you to rent the movie "Dr Strangelove", which is not only an entertaining funny movie, but an excellent portrait of how too much power in the hands of lunatics can cause you to lose your precious bodily fluids permanently. And life, too.
posted by elpapacito at 5:03 PM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Cosmos was what finally turned me into someone who would gladly take a seat to go die on Mars.
posted by autodidact at 5:08 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was really sad that I didn't get to meet Carl Sagan in American Samoa the last time Halley's Comet came around. I was living in a compound for foreign workers, and three of my neighbors were amateur astronomers who were very excited about his visit. Anyway, pic related.
posted by mullingitover at 5:10 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

This post is so full of fondly-remembering-my-nerdy-kid-self win. Thanks.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:00 PM on March 23, 2009

The series itself was good but what *really* inspired me was Carl Sagan's crazy voice - I can still hear his oddly compelling intonation in my head.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:01 PM on March 23, 2009

This reminds me that it is nearly time for my Annual Rewatching of The Cosmos. A one-weekend ritual I've practiced since the release of the DVDs.

Also, every time I break up with a girl, the first cheery thought is always: On the bright side, I get to re-experience watching Cosmos for the first time with somebody new.

Also, my first-born will probably be named Sagan.
posted by BoatMeme at 6:17 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Watching Cosmos with Dad as a very young child was one of the few bonding experiences I've ever had with him.
posted by JHarris at 6:37 PM on March 23, 2009

Thank you so much. I've never seen this, and long wanted to. I love that man's voice.
posted by phrontist at 6:38 PM on March 23, 2009

There's a reason one of the protagonists of my Old Man's War series of books is named "Jane Sagan."
posted by jscalzi at 7:03 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was in Ithaca, NY, in the mid-1990s, visiting a couple of friends at college. A bunch of us decided to have a picnic lunch one afternoon after some shopping, so we bought sandwiches at Subway, and hiked down to the bottom of one of the gorges, and spread out comfortably on the grass, in the sun. Just a stone's throw away, in a little nook behind some trees, two gentlemen started having an argument, and we soon heard definite sounds of scuffle and melee. A shirtless dude in a denim jacket then hightailed it up the gorge. We could just see the feet of the other guy, laid out flat on his back.

I managed to lose at choosies, and got appointed to investigate. Still, I dragged one of the girls along with me for protection. This poor gentleman had had his face pummeled into breakfast fruit. He was lying there, refusing our help, obviously high as a kite, his face bloody and his eyes swollen shut; his poor, upset Rottweiler sitting loyally by his side. We proceeded to go find the nearest phone.

It was Cornell's graduation that weekend, and we happened to knock on the door of a house filled to the brim with friends and family sitting around eating a buffet lunch, paper plates balanced on their laps. I'm directed to a phone in the living room, dial 911, and start giving out the whos and wheres and why fors. Everybody's just eating their lunch, telling stories and laughing. At one point, I actually had to shush them. "Hey, Cornell! I'm on the phone with the cops!"

So the cops arrive, and we give the officers a horribly inaccurate description, and EMTs haul our friend into a bus and cart him off. Animal Control comes for the dog, and eventually the cops come back down the gorge with denim jacket guy who lent his pal the beating. Apparently, they had some sort of disagreement over some heroin. The house where we made the phone call had emptied by this time, and all the neighboring houses, and everybody and their mom and dad were watching from the porch.

Finally, we get to go back and sit down and finish our subs, and my friend turns to me, points up the side of the gorge and goes, "That's Carl Sagan's house."
posted by steef at 7:33 PM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you've never listened to it before, Radiolab has a great episode about Space. The first segment includes an awesome, touching story by Ann Druyan about her and Carl Sagan.
posted by kmz at 7:46 PM on March 23, 2009

Oh, awesome. Between this and Connections, I really learned how to explore and think, and that it was ok to do so.
posted by lysdexic at 8:00 PM on March 23, 2009

I was an 8 year old when my parents planted me on the carpet and made me watch this every week. I was sucked into our school's gifted program two years later.

I'm not convinced I would have qualified for the program without COSMOS. I was armed and ready in class and when I took those entry tests. I'm fairly sure many other kids who were passed by for the same program would have made it had they spent those 12 weeks hearing Sagan rather than watching Silver Spoons.

My favorite quote, other than the apple pie one: Imagime a Hiroshima, happening every two minutes, over the course of a Sunday afternoon.
posted by sourwookie at 10:47 PM on March 23, 2009

Carl Sagan was a pothead. And he thought about the Universe a lot. So did me and my friend Jeff, when we were potheads.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:42 PM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

1980. Ha! I hope you kids realize just how lucky you were, to be sitting in your parent's homes, watching Sagan on TV. When I was in 1980, I didn't have TV. I couldn't afford the time to watch. I was much too busy playing my own bit part in pioneering those new-fangled microcomputers, so y'all could yap about Sagan on the internet, 29 years later.

I've never seen the show. I suppose I never think about Cosmos, when shopping for DVDs. It's not like I don't buy that sort of thing. It's not like I don't have a shelf full of books on cosmology and physics (the popular kind, I'm not up to the serious stuff). I heard about the show, but I was used to just dismissing anything about television from my mind.

I guess it's time to order those DVDs.
posted by Goofyy at 4:39 AM on March 24, 2009

I hope that all y'all hoo-mons realize that Cosmos was the only reason that we of 40 Eridanii decided not to wipe out this mudball, and that was based on the premise that you were working on cloning Sagan. Hop to it, hairless apes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:44 AM on March 24, 2009

I have fond memories of the Spaceship of the Imagination. Now I wonder if Sagan was perhaps a little embarrassed by it, but when I was eight I thought it was super cool to see him sidle up to an illuminated, unlabelled control panel and tap a few times to get the next segment of the show rolling.

Nice post!
posted by werkzeuger at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

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