Behind the Scenes of Cosmos: Passing the Torch From Carl to Neil

As host of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson upholds a legacy of learning began by Carl Sagan. A new behind-the-scenes video explores the passing of the COSMOS torch from Carl to Neil, two scientists that defined our generations’ quest for knowledge of the universe.

Sagan, the renowned scientist who starred in COSMOS: A Personal Voyage, influenced many people’s view of science and the universe with his meaningful lessons in simple language. Sagan also connected with Tyson not just as a teacher of science, but as a mentor as well. In December 1975, Tyson, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science with dreams of becoming an astrophysicist, applied to Cornell University.

To Tyson’s surprise, he soon received a personal reply from Sagan, then a faculty member at the university. “It was completely surreal,” Tyson said. “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.”

Tyson spent a day touring Cornell with Sagan as his guide, and while he ended up choosing to attend Harvard, the experience stuck with him. “Here we had a scientist who had a fireside chat manner, who was successful at communicating his passion and his knowledge of the universe to others,” Tyson explains. “I thought to myself, if I’m ever in a position to communicate with the public, that’s a fertile way to approach the challenge.”

When it came time to choose a host for COSMOS’ new incarnation, executive producers Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane knew Tyson was the heir apparent to Sagan’s rich tradition of bringing the cosmos to the masses.

Learn more about Sagan, Tyson and the COSMOS tradition in the video below, and don’t miss an all-new episode this Monday at 9P.