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Dedication of the Sagan Planet Walk

Sciencenter, Ithaca, NY
November 8, 1997

The following remarks were presented at the dedication for the Sagan Planet Walk, an outdoor educational model of the solar system commemorating the life and work of the late astronomer Carl Sagan. Prof. Sagan was a charter member of the Sciencenter's advisory board and had a strong influence on its original mission and philosophy.

The Sagan Planet Walk has a scale of one to 5 billion and extends 1,200 meters from the sun, on the Commons in downtown Ithaca, to Pluto at the Sciencenter. Each station includes a scale model of the planet in a Plexiglas window the scaled size of the sun, as well as a colorful sign with information and color images taken from spacecraft.

An educational Passport to the Solar System, written by Ann Druyan, wife and collaborator of Prof. Sagan's for more than 20 years, provides additional information and serves as a souvenir. Passports are available for $2 from the following locations: Sciencenter; 15 Steps Shop and Gallery; Tompkins County Trust Company; Clinton House Ticket Center; and the Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Planet pages of passports can be stamped at locations along the route. Each fully stamped passport is good for one free admission to the Sciencenter.


NYS Senate, 50th District

I am pleased to join in this dedication ceremony as we honor a famous scientist who spread curiosity, exciting scientific application and stimulating education to literally millions around the globe.

We are honored to have had Carl Sagan call Tompkins County his home, and we are delighted to be able to honor him now with this memorial exhibition in his name.

The Sagan Planet Walk represents a significant addition to the cultural and education life of the upstate New York region.

The Sagan Planet Walk will serve as an artistic reminder of our scientific heritage for area residents, serve as a significant resource for school children, and provide a significant attraction for tourists visiting the area. Thus, it will enhance our quality of life, become an important educational resource and boost our local economic development efforts.

This project is the latest in a series of educational exhibitions and programs developed by the Sciencenter for the residents and guests of upstate New York. I have been proud to support these efforts over the past five years, and I applaud the staff and volunteers of the Sciencenter for their efforts in conceiving, planning, raising funds for and constructing this exhibition.

Not only is the Sagan Planet Walk a significant addition to this community in so many ways, it is very much in keeping with what has rapidly become the legacy of the Sciencenter and it will forever continue the legacy of Carl Sagan.

My congratulations and thanks to all who are responsible for making the Sagan Planet Walk a reality.


NYS Assembly, 125th District

It is a great honor to participate in this ceremony today, and it has been a pleasure to assist, in a small way, in this undertaking.

This project is a unique tribute to a unique man. It is a recognition of the value that we here in Ithaca place on learning and knowledge, and it is a permanent monument to an individual who embodied that commitment and who shared it with the entire world. It is our way of saying, "Thank you!"

Thank you from the young people who now and who in the future will take this walk and will become inspired to continue Carl Sagan's exploration of the universe and who share his passion to bring that knowledge to all of us.

Thank you from the casual stroller, who, because of this effort, will quietly, but more fully, understand both the significance and the insignificance of humankind in the context of the universe.

Thank you from those who travel the length of the walk and then spend a clear cool autumn evening gazing into the heavens with a greater understanding and appreciation than before.

The work of Carl Sagan, and this Planet Walk that commemorates that work, will inspire generations of Ithacans and visitors to Ithaca to explore, not only our physical universe, but the universe of the human mind and spirit as well.

Walt Whitman had this experience and related it to us:

"When I, sitting, heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room, how soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself, in the mystical moist night air, and from time to time, looked up in perfect silence at the stars."

Carl gave us both the charts and graphs, the proofs and the figures as well as the mysteries, beauty, intrigue, and wonders that surround us. This planetary walk enables us to appreciate both the science of our solar system and the universe as well as its awesome splendor. Carl Sagan would have appreciated that.

To Ann, Carl's children, and the rest of the Sagan family, to his friends, his colleagues at Cornell and elsewhere, to Erin Caruth, the designer of this magnificent monument, and to the imaginative individuals at the Sciencenter -- Charlie Trautmann and Bob Orrange, who brought this all together -- thank you for this extraordinary monument; for this tribute to a man and his mission and for the reminder that our greatest adventures have not yet been lived.


Member, Sciencenter Board of Directors

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today as a Sciencenter Board member and chairperson of its Teen Task Force.

Built nearly 5 years ago by over 2,200 volunteers, the Sciencenter is deeply rooted in our community. Volunteers continue to play a key role in all aspects of the operations of the Sciencenter -- providing vision for the organization, serving as the creative force behind the design and construction of many of the over 100 exhibits which are now available, and helping on a daily basis with a wide range of museum activities.

Two years in production, the Sagan Planet Walk is one more example of how the Sciencenter reaches out to and engages residents and visitors to our community in the experience of scientific education and discovery.

It is wonderful to see so many families here today, for you represent a primary constituency of the Sciencenter. The Sciencenter also has a keen interest in working with area youth both in school groups and out of school. The Sciencenter's YouthALIVE! program is a good example of these efforts.

As you "walk the Sagan Planet Walk" and get your Passport to the Solar System stamped today, you will be greeted by representatives from many neighborhood youth groups and community organizations. A number of these groups -- ranging from after school groups to a girl scout troop, a church youth group and Sciencenter's YouthALIVE! program to employees of an Ithaca company and members of the local Star Trek Fan club -- have also agreed to actively "protect" the planets by volunteering to walk the Walk and to conduct visual inspections of each planet station during the course of a year.

Above and beyond the valuable assistance these groups will provide in helping to maintain this new exhibition, the Sciencenter's goal was to develop a sense of ownership by the community for the Sagan Planet Walk -- resulting in an even greater participation in Sciencenter activities by these organizations. And building upon this sense of ownership, a number of neighborhood businesses have also agreed to serve as Passport Stamping stations.

In closing, I'd like to say how proud I am to live in a community where so many have come forward and contributed to this project. Thank you.


Project Manager and Member, Sciencenter Board of Directors

It is incredible to Erin Caruth and me that we are gathered here today to dedicate this Sagan Planet Walk on the occasion of the late Carl Sagan's birthday.

It was in the spring of 1995, that the idea for an outdoor model of the Solar System was first proposed by Charlie Trautmann at a meeting of the Sciencenter's Exhibits Committee. It was quickly determined that a model scaled at 1 to 5 billion would fit between the Ithaca Commons and the Sciencenter, a distance of 1,200 meters. At this scale, the Sun would be about 300 mm in diameter, the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn about 25 mm in diameter and the Earth about 2.5 mm in diameter.

The objective of the exhibit would be to encourage self-guided tours by the public and by school groups to acquire a real sense of the magnitude of the system and the size of the planets, a sense that cannot be achieved in the classroom.

In the Fall of 1995, I was asked to take responsibility for developing the exhibit, and Erin Caruth agreed to work with me to come up with a conceptual design. With encouragement from the Ithaca Art and Design Commission and support from the responsible city organizations, we were able to agree on the locations and proceed to develop a design which was aesthetically appealing and sensitive to its surroundings. The sun station had to be a prominent landmark for the beginning of the walk and provide a venue for educational material that was inviting and informative. The smaller planet stations had to echo the shape of the Sun station in order to be recognizable from a distance as a part of the Planet Walk and had to provide a setting for the plaques and planet models.

By the summer of 1996, the design was defined well enough to estimate cost and schedule, and we were able to initiate solicitations for sponsors of each of the various stations. By the end of the year, six of the nine planet stations were sponsored.

Shortly after Carl Sagan's death in December 1996, numerous people suggested that the Planet Walk become a memorial to Carl. With Ann Druyan's encouragement and sponsorship of the sun, the decision was made to proceed with the implementation so that a dedication could be held on the weekend of Carl's next birthday. This appeared to be do-able but led to an extremely tight schedule, since it was already March and Carl's birthday is in November. But here we are!

Indeed, we are here today to honor the memory of Carl Sagan because of the dedication and hundreds of hours of service given by the individual team participants, by the companies and organizations that helped us, and of course because of the project sponsors and project friends who funded us, each of whom is identified in the program. I wish to thank them all at this time.

In conclusion, as you proceed through the walk, we think you will be amazed at the small size and close spacing of the four terrestrial planets -- all of which are on the Commons -- and the huge distances to the outer planets, each of which is located at or near a point of interest along the way to the Sciencenter. If nothing else, you will be awed by a tiny Earth in a vast space and realize that our planet is but a small spaceship, with humanity and all known life aboard.


Host of PBS Television Show and Former Student of Sagan's

Good morning and welcome to this gathering. We're here to honor Carl Sagan, a man, who saw the world in a different way. He saw the Earth as an island, a tiny island, in the middle of a very empty yet teeming cosmic ocean. He saw us as the adventurers, who might come to know its secrets.

He often told of a moment; as a boy, he realized that Mars was a world, a planet, a place that he might one day go. He realized that he could be an astronomer. The son of a working man, he was not brought up in an academic sphere. But his parents let him find his way. We're here, because he found his way well.

He changed us-- the ways of our thoughts. That's worth celebrating. He was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy at Cornell, up the hill here. Among dozens of other awards, he won the NASA Apollo Achievement Award, two NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the Pulitzer Prize. He alerted us to the possibility that nuclear war might devastate life on our planet in the same way a meteorite might have. Asteroid 2709 his named for him. He shaped the only messages our species, or any Earthling, has sent out of our solar system. Our galactic side street.

What greater work could there be for a teacher and thinker? His life's work was to show us that whatever human conceitwe might develop, we are fish in a very small pond. And at the same time, he helped us see that small as our place may be in the scheme of things, our ability to understand our place is worthy of respect and rejoicing.

He reveled in the scientific method, the clever process that lets us come to know how the world works. He expressed endless enthusiasm for the notion that science is a wonderful way to spend one's brief stay. He saw the lazy or undisciplined use of pseudoscience as just plain bad.

As a student in his class, every day I was amazed at his way of looking at things. He relentlessly made us question what we saw, assumed, and thought. He showed us photographs of what I thought was a terrestrial desert landscape. He pointed out some eroded features on the rocks, some soil obviously blown by the wind, and some out-of-place looking boulders. Some ways into the lecture he mentioned that these postcard photos were from Mars. His offhanded acknowledgment of the photos origin made them seem fantastic. This is the world he lives in? I thought. Mars is his day at the office? It made you just want to understand it all as fast you could.

[He showed us a creature that he told us could be observed with a microscope. It ingested tiny organisms and somehow completely dissolved them in just a few hours. He had a few pictures to prove it. Well, they turned out not to be microscopic views. They were telescopic views, pictures taken from outer space... of a swimming pool. The organisms turned out not to be so tiny; they were people like us. When the pool closed between orbits of the satellite bearing the camera, the swimmers folded their towels and went home. But you couldn't tell that's what was going on, unless you thought about it. He had a way of getting us to observe things and question our first impressions. He helped us transform our unfounded assumptions into solid scientific inquiry. He changed me, my classmates, and millions of viewers and readers into critical thinkers.]

He showed the world that even if we eliminated nine out of every ten of the nuclear weapons currently deployed, we are in grave danger. We live among booby traps of our own design. His arguments were compelling. He helped change international policy by changing the way professional statesmen and women, non-scientists, saw his scientific argument. That is a big deal.

Carl Sagan was a romantic. I loved that about him. He got me interested in learning to ballroom dance, during an astronomy lecture. He was describing an experiment to simulate the possibility of a meteoroid colliding with, say, the Earth. He talked about driving large nails into the floor of a ballroom and rolling a golf ball across it. The ball would collide with the nails. His manner suggested a sorry state of affairs, in which ballrooms were hardly being used for anything else but these experiments. In an instant, with a shrug, he conveyed a wistful longing for the romance of dancing. Somehow, that moment stuck with me. If it was that important to him, well it must be worthwhile. Thanks to him whenever I can, I use dancing to show a scientific principle.

Years later, he was watching my show-- my show(!), if you will. And, he was confident that he had found errors. He wrote me a detailed letter about the problems. It is remarkable that a man of his stature, his eminence, would bother to not only watch a children's elementary science show, but then take the time to write me about it-- what a guy. He was always looking and pressing education to be succinct and successful. I stand by my view: bodies of water are blue, often because blue light reflects off the sky, not just because water absorbs photons strongly at around 700 nanometers. It's hardly fair to take this up, with him not here and all. But in a way, he is here. His vision made this place come to be. As evidence of this extraordinary claim, I offer our presence at this gathering.

He taught us a lot about the world, about the Earth and what a tiny fragile place it is. He showed students like me that we are made of the very same tiny pieces of stuff as the stars. We're assembled in these exquisite packages with genetic instructions that render each of us unique, one in at least 70 trillion.

He loved numbers, big numbers. In my experience, he spoke of them constantly-- a trillion this, a quadrillion that, billions and billions of stars, or galaxies, or people like you and me. He pointed out that there are more things or even enormous groups of things than we can count. And insignificant as that might make us seem at first, he shared his fascination, his passion, his joy in the certainty that we are special. We have this extraordinary ability to understand our place in the Universe-- in the Cosmos. We humans can individually and through our careful sharing of knowledge come to know the workings of our world. And for him, our world extended farther literally than we can see and always more than a little beyond what we could imagine. That was his gift. He made us think past what we might be aware of at first.He asked us to reach for the stars, because that must be where we came from. For somewhat diminutive organisms on a small rocky accretion orbiting a run-of-the-mill star, these are wild, wondrous ideas.

Today we will walk through a modest but remarkable model of our stellar neighborhood. The emphasis is simply that as busy as every thing seems to us as we pursue our pursuits and wrangle our affairs, our solar system is mostly void, mostly empty. Look for yourself. There's a lot of space in space.

The Planet Walk strikes me as a fitting memorial to Professor Sagan. He often conjured models of the cosmos. He often worked to help us come to know how big things are beyond our fragile sphere. He was among the very first astronomers to show solid scientific reasons to consider our neighboring planets as worlds, each with its own abundance, each with its own weather, and each with its own worthy secrets that we humble human explorers might aspire to unlock. Indeed, that there is so much to be learned from our neighboring worlds that we cannot afford not to explore them. Despite their apparent inhospitable environments, their makeup, local forces, and fields, they are governed by the very same universal processes that will influence the fate of our own home. So, we'd better do our best to understand them.

As a student, I remember being continually aware of Professor Sagan's deep and intimate understanding of physical science, life science, and history. He was a great intellect, who saw that without shared knowledge democracy is not possible. And, without scientific understanding, we cannot hope to make reasonable choices for our species. He was an outstanding scientist, a formidable thinker, and an unforgettable teacher. He will be missed.

Let's take a walk, and be among the first of generations to come to consider our place here and among the stars, a place Carl Sagan loved and loved to help us see for ourselves.