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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • //“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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • That was beau­ti­ful Mahen­drap. Thank you!

  • 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.

  • I admire Carl Sagan great­ly and was at one time quite obsessed with his book. I think Sagan’s words make a very apt trib­ute.

  • 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!

  • 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 24x7)

  • Hi, I added you to my blogroll as well. 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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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  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Won­der­ful post mahen­dra — it is indeed a very apt thing to con­sid­er dur­ing this time.

  • 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? 🙂

  • 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! 🙂

  • Thanks to Ankur, I dis­cov­ered the audio doc­u­men­tary of Sagan him­self say­ing these immor­tal words.

    Ankur: Thank you.

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  • Romit

    I just have a sin­gle word to describe the pale blue dot and the way Sagan / you link it to life-chan­ing events. Hum­bling.