A 9/11 Tribute from Voyager & Carl Sagan


This image was taken, at Sagan’s suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood to the edges of our solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, when it captured this portrait of our world.

“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines. Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds…

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

– Carl Sagan, commencement address delivered May 11, 1996.

This tribute is to hope and pray on behalf of the 2996 people who were killed on that fateful day. Many more have been killed before and after, all over this pale blue dot. Just like Voyager, we also need to turn and look back at man’s history on this fragile planet. Will we learn to cherish what we’ve got, or wipe ourselves out of existence?

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22 thoughts on “A 9/11 Tribute from Voyager & Carl Sagan

  1. It’s unusual for me to be the first one to comment on my own post, but it felt out of place in the Tribute, and necessary. I had this theme in my mind for this tribute. On my regular stroll through the blogosphere, I came across Primate Diaries’ tribute – starting with the same theme. For a while, I aborted my plan, but then went ahead and posted it anyway. This was not inspired by that post, but I think you would like it.

  2. Mahendra, yours is one of the most appropriate, compassionate, sensitive, and moving tributes to the 9/11 victims I’ve ever seen. It puts to shame what surely will get played on the radio and TV here today — if the past is any predictor of the future. I very much appreciate your post. Thank you.

  3. //“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home.// Very touching. Excellent post.Keep blogging Mahendrap, you make blogosphere interesting.

  4. Thank you for stopping by and commenting on my posts and for reading the 9/11 tributes from last year.

    Carl Sagan was someone I admired and his views on humanity are sorely missed. He understood, as many do not, that it is possible for humans to rise above their destructive impulses and be a force for change and for good.

  5. Paul, Prerna, Brian: Thank you. I sorely miss Sagan. When he died, I made myself alone, and cried my heart out.

    I can’t help thinking of the parallels here: At one end is a man who helped send a satellite in space, from which we first understood our solar system to a greater extent than ever before. And when it was 6.4 billion kms from earth, he turned it around to show us this, and explain his philosophy.

    And at the other end is a man who made airplanes soaring into the sky turn downwards towards the earth, and caused pure death and destruction. This is the parallel that was the genesis of this post.

    Thanks again for your heartwarming responses.

  6. Mahendra,
    May be this is a tangent. It is usual to say how insignificant man is in the face of the ocean, or the furies of Nature, or the vastness of the cosmos. I have long held the view (espoused by Ayn Rand) that this comparison in size (man v. Universe) just shows how powerful and great man is. As a species, he has overcome his limitations in size and strength to gain control over Nature (to a large extent) and to explore the Universe that is almost infinite.

  7. Webs, welcome, and thanks!

    Rambodoc: yes, it is a tangent. The usual, ‘philosophical’ view of portraying man’s insignificance was espoused by mystics who wanted to diminish man’s stature, and relegate him as a servant to some higher power.

    Sagan’s view of scientifically portraying man’s true place in the universe was to spread awareness and awe of the universe, encourage space exploration, inspire humans to value the earth’s uniqueness, and reduce the evil among our species by showing how non-sensical it is from the Universe’s perspective. I’m sure he shared your view of man’s great stature – he himself lived his whole life proving it!

    Nita: thanks for sharing. I’m glad to have Sagan-admirers on my blog!

  8. The World’s a Dot and We Are The Villains….. great post Mahendra…. a very good tribute… (about my long spell of silence – I had a huge piece of code/module going live, so couldnt come online for personal stuff very often… it was like working 24×7)

  9. Touching post Mahendra. 9/11 was indeed a turning point in our history. It has taken us closer to one of the two choices we have – destruct or flourish.

  10. Mahendra

    Great post. The image and the story behind it are classic.

    Carl Sagan was one of my favorite scientits and I used to regularly watch his program on Sunday mornings years ago when it came on DD.

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  12. Beautifully done!!
    I came by to make sure that you saw my response to your kind comment on my site: “Mahendra,
    you were the first to leave a comment on this page. Yes you saw me from the very beginning. Thank you for your continued support and for occasionally brining me back to earth.”

  13. Thank you for including Sagan’s “quote” in your tribute. I havent read better prose that aptly describes “The Pale Blue Dot”. Let’s hope the dot stays blue and not vanish. Great blog. Keep up the excellent posts.

  14. Priyank/powerkis: thank you very much!

    arZan: welcome to my blog, thank you very much for the comments! Yes, it was DD that started it all with ‘Cosmos’ back in the 80s.

    rams: welcome! Thanks for the encouragement, and yes, here’s hoping that the dot doesn’t vanish…thanks again.

  15. The usual, ‘philosophical’ view of portraying man’s insignificance was espoused by mystics who wanted to diminish man’s stature, and relegate him as a servant to some higher power.

    Not necessarily.

    “Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.

    “Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.”

    Guess who said the above two quotes? 🙂

  16. Amit: welcome! Yes, not necessarily, that’s why I said ‘usual’, as I was responding to Rambodoc’s comment.

    These quotes are indeed ‘unusual’, and thanks for sharing them! Looking at the enlightened commenters above, I don’t think anyone would need to guess who said/wrote them! 🙂

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