Worldly Recognition

Somewhere there's a closet stuffed full of all the medals Sagan received. He picked up the Pulitzer Prize, two NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award and a place as an inductee of the International Space Hall of Fame. Despite rejecting him for other memberships, the National Academy of Sciences awarded Sagan the Public Welfare Medal -- its highest honor.

The Birth of a Star

Born to a Jewish-Ukrainian family in Brooklyn, New York, Sagan was the son of hardworking parents who did their best to give him opportunities and protect him from the grim realities of the Holocaust, which negatively affected extended family abroad. Sagan's mother had particularly high aspirations for her son. Some say her desire for Sagan's success was to make up for opportunities she lacked in life [source: Davidson].

Thoughts of unseen worlds starting taking root in Sagan when the World's Fair set up in New York in 1939. As a young boy, he became intrigued by exhibits touting the role of science and technology in humanity's future. The displays hosted model skyscrapers and cities; booths enticed him with the new invention of the television. Sagan delighted in the future's potential -- it would be ripe with technology and science [source: Poundstone].

His inspirations drove him toward answering fundamental questions about the natural world -- a behavior routinely satisfied with his very own children's library card. Museums enraptured young Sagan, offering glimpses of other parts of the world and the exotic [source: Davidson].

Sagan received his bachelor's and master's degree in physics, and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Chicago, all while he was still in his 20s. After that, he did a stint at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and taught at Harvard University. He soon found a position at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he settled into a more permanent position as a professor and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies.

During and after his studies, Sagan worked with NASA, advising the agency on several space projects, including the Apollo, Voyager, Viking, Pioneer, Mariner and Galileo missions.

But Sagan didn't peak as a science star until he began working on the educational PBS show "Cosmos." Sagan's books and essays also catered to the masses, granting him numerous awards, including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his book "Dragons of Eden."

Sagan first wed biologist Lynn Margulis in 1957; then, artist Linda Salzman in 1968; and finally author Ann Druyan in 1981. He was the father to five children, but his commitment to work sometimes took a toll on providing a normal family life [source: Poundstone].