As host of the new TV series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson is following in the footsteps of the late Carl Sagan, the renowned scientist who starred in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, the classic 1980 program that powerfully influenced many people’s view of science and the universe. Oddly, Tyson, who was in graduate school at the time, recalls that he only had time to catch a few episodes of the original Cosmos when it originally aired. All the same, Sagan still managed to exert a profound personal influence upon his future Cosmos successor, thanks to a meeting between the two that occurred when Tyson was a teenager.
It happened back in December 1975, when Tyson, a senior from at the Bronx High School of Science who dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist, applied to Cornell University, and his application was forwarded to Sagan, a faculty member. To Tyson’s surprise, he soon received a personal reply. “It was completely surreal,” recalls Tyson. “I’m just a 17-year-old kid, and here’s the most famous scientist in the world—he’d been on Johnny Carson—inviting me to come visit him at his lab.” When Tyson took a bus from New York City to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, N.Y., and walked to the building where Sagan worked, he was even more startled to find the scientist waiting outside for him. After giving Tyson a tour of the lab, autographing one of his books and discussing the Viking Mars lander with him, Sagan gave Tyson a ride back to the bus station. “It had started snowing,” Tyson recalls. “He wrote his home phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to me, saying, ‘If the bus can’t get through, call me, and we’ll put you up for the night.’”
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