Post by contributor Ninna Gaensler-Debs
Maybe you didn’t watch public television in the ’80s. And maybe you’re not wildly curious about all of the complex machineries of the universe. But chances are you’ve probably heard of Carl Sagan’s 13 episode journey through space and time entitled Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Since its production in 1978, Cosmos has been broadcast in more than 60 countries and viewed by at least 500 million people. And now, thanks to Seth MacFarlane (of all people!), the series is getting rebooted with a new host: the stupendous Neil deGrasse Tyson. Fox released the trailer last week, and the show is set to premiere in 2014.
If you weren’t one of those 500 million viewers, let me give you a quick overview of the original Cosmos series, starting with the host. Carl Sagan was a brilliant astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist. His best-known scientific contributions are his discoveries about the physical properties of other planets, and his extensive research on extraterrestrial life. Sagan also penned such best-selling books as Dragons of Eden and Planets, you know, in all his spare time. Cosmos covered a wide range of material from the origin of the universe to the inner workings of the human brain. The show is chiefly adored for Sagan’s unending passion and eloquent illuminations of all things scientific. Quoth Sagan, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
So here’s the part where I tell you why you must watch the new Cosmos.
1. You’ll learn something. The best part of Sagan’s Cosmos was that even hopelessly unscientific folks could appreciate the concepts he illustrated. If you’ve ever heard Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about anything, you’ll know that he is a) smart as hell and b) charming and understandable — essential qualities for explaining complicated science to those of us without PhD’s in astrophysics.
2. It’s being produced by good people. Carl Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan helped produce the former Cosmos, and there’s every reason to believe she’ll do a wonderful job with its descendant — particularly because this time, she has more resources. Her co-producer, Seth MacFarlane, is the reason she got those resources, but is also the reason many are skeptical about the new Cosmos. While I’m not MacFarlane’s biggest fan (please kindly do not ever host an awards ceremony again, sir), his dedication to the project is impressive, and he clearly reveres Sagan. It was MacFarlane who provided funding for the donation of much of Carl Sagan’s personal writing to the Library of Congress. Apparently, Seth’s a space nerd.
3. This Cosmos will have modern animation and special effects. At first, I was skeptical about the decision to incorporate cartoon representations of history, but then I realized that the right animations decrease the likelihood of awkward over-dramatized historical re-enactments. Computer graphics lacking taste (this will air on Fox, after all) would weaken the content of the show. However, as we established in the 1st point, the show is in good hands. And let’s face it people, space on TV is best done with hurtling objects and (tasteful) big explosions.
4. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a genius. I really really think you would be hard pressed to find anybody in this world smarter than this man. In fact, when Carl Sagan discovered that Tyson had applied to Cornell for his undergraduate degree, Sagan began an aggressive campaign to convince Tyson to attend the university. Ultimately, Tyson chose to attend Harvard, and then went on to become one of the most respected and renowned scientists in the world. But now that he’s hosting Cosmos, I think we can probably call it square.
5. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a champion ballroom dancer. Without having done sufficient research to make this claim, I will tell you there are very few, if any, scientists who have won gold at a Latin Ballroom competition. Ladies and gentleman, this dude can dance. See proof below:
6. This is an important reminder that financing science is important. Not to get on my soapbox (but I’m gonna get on my soapbox): shows like Cosmos really demonstrate, in an entertaining and digestible format, why scientific exploration and discovery are so very important. One of Tyson’s biggest concerns is dwindling financial support for NASA (currently its funding only accounts for 0.48% of the national budget). Science funding is universally in a state of crisis right now; from cancer research to studies on Amazonian tree frogs’ reproductive habits when fed a strict diet of Four Loko (fine, I made that one up). But seriously: science is important. As Sagan once said, “somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”