NASA – The Frontier Is Everywhere (Videos): Readings from Carl Sagan

Check out this awesome pair of inspiring videos about NASA and Space Exploration. They are set to the ever inspiring words of Carl Sagan – reading from his book, “The Pale Blue Dot”. And these beautifully crafted videos were not created by NASA, but rather by people inspired by NASA and Carl Sagan to dream about distant frontiers even in these times of tough budgets for NASA.

The original, highly praised video – see below – was created by Director Michael Marantz, who was inspired by the words of Carl Sagan. Now a completely new version – above – by a fellow going by “damewse”, has been set to the same stirring words and music and the video has gone viral.

“damewse” posted that he created the new video treatment because he feels NASA’s PR sucks, resulting in massive funding cuts. He pleads with NASA to use social media to relate to the public with videos like these to rekindle public interest in the space program.

Both videos are included here for all to enjoy and compare – moving and thought provoking in their own right.

“damewse” elaborated; “I got frustrated with NASA and made this video. NASA is the most fascinating, adventurous, epic institution ever devised by human beings, and their media sucks.”

“Seriously. none of their brilliant scientists appear to know how to connect with the social media crowd, which is now more important than ever. In fact, NASA is an institution whose funding directly depends on how the public views them.”

Earth: The Pale Blue Dot
The original film and comments by Director Michael Marantz

“Carl Sagan provides the epic narration to this piece. His great ability to convey such overwhelming topics in relatable ways inspired me to make this.”

The Pale Blue Dot. Most distant image of Earth, snapped by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990 at a distance of 6.1 billion kilometers. Credit: NASA

“This piece contains readings from Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”. I have edited his words to tell this short narrative.

I took the time lapse images in Mexico and Utah.

The piano is self-composed.

Everything in this video is created by myself except for the words of Carl Sagan.

I hope you enjoy this piece, it has given me hope once again.”

– Michael Marantz

Well NASA does need to do a more effective job at PR to grab the attention of the public – especially the younger generations – and explaining the agency’s exploration goals in ways that folks will find value in and support. But it’s also true that NASA has embraced many forms of social media. Take a look at almost any NASA Center or Mission homepage and you’ll see buttons for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, flickr, blogs and more. I’ve found these sources to be invaluable, especially during beaking news events.

It hinges more I think on the quality of the presentation of the content and the organization of outstanding material at those websites. Look here for a thoughtful perspective from Spaceref Canada

The lengthy list of exciting and worthy ideas and lost opportunities for space exploration that have gone unfunded in our lifetimes, is truly sad.

Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking Lander that landed on Mars in 1976 in the search for life.

29 Replies to “NASA – The Frontier Is Everywhere (Videos): Readings from Carl Sagan”

  1. Sagan is my Hero.He was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of th 20th century.

  2. I think NASA has done a rather impressive job at embracing social media so far. I will be attending a Tweetup next month at the Ames Research Center. It should be a lot of fun. Follow me at @lylemckeany. I’m sure I’ll be busy tweeting away on Feb 11th.

  3. While this sounds inspiring, Sagan appears to state things from a future evolutionary perspective that is problematic. Those moving into the stars will be a species “like us.” The evolutionary future of Homo sapiens is hard to project. Yet our past evolution appears to involve some genetic bottlenecks. We also may be heading into the next one, and EO Wilson lays out a pretty good case for that. A bottleneck reduces the genetic variation in a species, for the rapid reduction in a population culls out many variations. It is also unclear whether this is a selection that enhances that species. So the evolutionary future may see the continuation of our species as a much more genetically uniform species. This is probably not does not bode well for our long term survival.


    1. I would imagine that our technology will have advanced to the point where we can fully control our genetic destiny, long before evolution has made any appreciable difference.

      1. At the time, Carl Sagan would not have known about that, I mean after all he died some fifteen years ago. As for the words abstracted in the video, they sound more like the words of Arthur C. Clarke, and his vision of the future. I.e. “Songs of Distant Earth” (which hopefully one day will be made into a movie.
        I’d think NASA should take the “Top Gun” approach, using this as a platform of recruitment of “space fanatics” for the future, just like this movie did for Naval Aviators.
        Frankly in your comments I’d agree with Doris Day song, Que Sera Sera… “The future’s not ours, to see.”

      2. Um, you may want to study up on evolution. Its pathways are contingent, so there is no “destiny”, no predestination; certainly no control.

        We can perhaps over time learn to introduce new genes (say, in the beginning taken from other populations) and weed out small populations of damaging ones (say, minor cases of genetic diseases).

        But currently our large population size makes selection horrendously effective (since the SNR ratio diminishes), and there are results showing that new genes are driven to fixation at a rate of ~ 5/generation.

        It will take a long time to catch up with the “appreciable difference” that evolution makes today. (And as for taking common genes out of a population, it seems like a pipe dream, only evolution can do that as of today.)

        And that will initially be mostly blind efforts that doesn’t affect pathways of visible traits. For example, body length may well be controlled by hundreds of our genes out of the ~ 25 000 we have. (And by the environment as well, natch!) It is one thing to control “genetic destiny”. It is quite another to control traits!

      3. “taking common genes out” – taking common alleles out. Taking genes out is another order of difficulty altogether…

    2. We’ve come so far and yet have so far to go… I like where Carl Sagan reminds that we are a nomadic species. That we are ‘hardwired’ to expand and explore. I like that!

      In future, perhaps a digital archivist will stumble across these conjectures and postulations and smile at our naivete and petty differences? Then returning to her star ship, she will pocket her samples and enter the stasis chamber for the trip home.

      1. It is not about being depressed. If you look at things honestly it becomes apparent that our situation is not as certain and upwards as we might want it to be. Our powers are limited, and we are not going to control our evolutionary future as suggested above. We might try, but almost certainly it will not work out as planned. There is a history of unexpected consequences, and we seem to have a huge denial about that. In fact, that denial is probably the biggest threat we face.


  4. Sagan was just so damn cool, and a real master in inspiring the public in science. A real hero of mine!

  5. Professor Sagan was a man of vision with confidence for tomorrow. However, I personally think that the future will not be as clear and bright as so many prognosticate because man seems unable or unwilling to understand what needs doing, in order, to ensure his survival long into the future. We will someday realize trips to other worlds and even establish roots on mars, providing we have not destroyed the only inhabitable world we currently know. First, we must devise new educational and economic systems that work for all earth’s citizens regardless of nationality, culture, race, or religion. The continued underfunding of NASA will remain as the over populated earth moves deeper into chaos and closer to nonexistence on account of man’s vastly different beliefs.

  6. There is an interesting paper by Darvies:

    where he argues there are 10^123 bit flips in the entire universe. There are 400 to 500 bits and possible 10^123 entangled bit flips corresponds to the total number of elementary particles, or string modes possible. The E_8xE_8 has 2×248 = 496 particle states. The implication is that the universe may only contain one of every type of elementary particle. So the electrons running around the circuit board in my computer, is the same as all the electrons in the entire universe. This holographic projection of fields onto the AdS boundary, or equivalently the cosmological boundary, is a form of Feynman’s original concept of the path integral where a particle in effect covers the entire universe.

    I could go on with this, but is sounds utterly insane to say that there are only 496 particles in the universe. There is an associated quantum entanglement entropy and information in the universe which is considerably larger. This gives rise to decoherent classes or sets which is why we perceive there are so many particles or “atoms” in the universe. So how is it that this information content has a semantic meaning?

    I have a book by Boolos & Jefferies on Computability and Logic. They use Godel’s theorem to construct a Modal logical system of semantic soundness. This would approximate my sense of how there is an semantic structure of information and quantum information and its entropy. The universe has a recursive information structure which leads to this thing called consciousness. Of course this gets into anthropic principle ideas, but it might be that the ontology of the universe is something defined by what conscious entities might arise within it.

    This is really our power in universe. It is not likely to be that we carve out some stellar civilization or “empire” by moving directly out into the stars. In a funny sense we already are amongst the stars. Our power lies in the fact we are some part of the universe which is conscious of itself and the universe at large.


    1. I loath reading something of deist Davies, because I know that he will have smuggled his gods in there in his incessant search for patterns that fits his preconceptions. And he doesn’t disappoint, he does so in the beginning with his clockwork universe (forgetting QM!) and in the end with his “unreasonable effective” math and “Goldilock’s enigma”. All trying to find physics as “not enough” or “preordained”.

      Unfortunately for him it doesn’t seem likely that there can be a fundamental bound on the dimensionality of Hilbert spaces (his eq 17), see for example the works and opinions of physicist Sean Carroll.

      As for the bound on quantum states as opposed to classical bits, he makes the unrealistic and as far as I can see unsubstantiated claim that entangled states can be separated and seen as “unentangled”! How does that even work, observing them would indeed separate and dis-entangle, but we aren’t supposed to do that before getting to the result.

      If he has trouble to visualize that I suggest he looks at the realistic many world theory. There these states are found to be correlations between the many simultaneously existing worlds that participate in the entanglement. (See for example Deutsch in “The Fabric of Reality”.)

      As for “anthropic principles” needing consciousness, they don’t any more than earlier quantum mechanics theory needed it, that is not at all it was eventually realized. All what is needed to get the same result is dust production, whether there is actual life (yet) or not. This is the same as for evolution, the process mechanisms exist whether there are actual cell populations (yet) or not.

      FWIW, personally I find it more correct to call them “environmental principles”.

      1. Actually the dimensionality requirement of Hilbert space is a funny tidbit. I have to rush, and I’m only vaguely remembering this from one of Carroll’s paper, but IIRC unless you have infinite dimensions you will not be able to recognize “time” in QM. (Conversely, with them you can understand time a bit better.)

        So Davies may be advocating a “frozen universe” on top of his “genetic destiny” (:-D) universes.

  7. If humans are going to travel in space to Alpha centauri it wont be as biological entities. Our bodies are part of the earth biosphere and reliant upon it. Building self sustaining habitats for generational voyages is a kind of pertinent idea, but our current social political and most importantly financial system is not terribly conducive to the notion. The only motivator might be survival of our species.

    The real revolution is space exploration will come with technology that allows us to alter our own biology to the point where we live for much longer. Having a lifespan of a 1000 years (as an example) will change the human perspective in regards to long term space travel.

    If your thinking of technologies that will let you travel even (near) the speed of light, you have to consider that you will have to do so without a biological body. The romantic notion of exploration in space comes with a cost that is not easily defined in terms of self image. Our children may well be so different that by todays ethical definitions they are not human anymore.

    However, in a way we already are traveling the universe, as LC alludes, the mere act of observation is a form of travel. Bound up in this notion is the quintessential mystery of the human race. What happens after we die.

    For all we know we exist in a pan galactic sentient civilization, and merely take holidays in the physical world. 🙂 However as we cant measure it but suspect it might exist perhaps we can call it the “Dark Life” (Dark matter pun intended)

    I personally cant help but speculate that cosmology and its attempts to understand and quantify the universe we are observing are bound to a future revelation that will mark a shift between the identity of humans today and the children of our future.

    Knowledge rather then tin can spacecraft will allow future generations to explore the universe.

    1. None of that seem very realistic.

      – As for our species start migrating, we can do that almost immediately by Oort cloud jumping. Hollowing out comets for habitats as we go or travel with them, and Oort cloud of stars seem to overlap. Apparently comets provide enough fissionable material for todays reactors. We may want to hone up on our microhabitat skilz first though. (Likely need a tad more closure.)

      – As for “simulation universes” I believe QM trivially kills them, no hidden variables.

      1. Micro habitats is where its at, we are far more likely to populate our solar system then travel great distances. However building such things is easier mused upon then realized. I have said so before and will again, Once humans leave a gravity well of a planet there will be little need to go back down one.

        All the raw materials we might require in the short terms are available in terms of asteroids and Oort cloud bodies. However as many Sc-Fi writers speculate the conversion of available mass in our solar system is finite, at some point with exponential growth we may convert our planets as well. (fear mongering perhaps but a valid extrapolation)

        Habitat Building is an interesting idea, so far not much imagination has been applied to this. My take is that its will be a generational undertaking and the habitat will need to be a micro planet with all the attributes that make earth a viable biosphere. Water is the key element with an artificial magnetosphere and biomass borrowed from earth.

        @ TL OM : No not realistic, but perhaps therein lies the problem, humans like tangible physical reality, but its a bit incompatible with the environment we would wish to explore and colonize.

  8. So that was Sagan. Yeah, well, maybe he was interesting for previous generations. Seems like a rather boring presentation today, doesn’t it; maybe someone should gather some statistics on presentation techniques and see if this is still efficient.

    Also, as Lawrence I was hit with how Sagan is wrong on evolutionary issues, and trivially so.

    – Evolution doesn’t “improve” species over time except contingently so (say, if they started out badly adapted). The specie that will emigrate to the stars will likely be less well adapted for their traveling and colonizing habitat than today. Contrary to Lawrence I see no certain threatening bottleneck scenario on Earth (on the contrary we will easily be able to feed 9 G people according to researchers), but the migration will constitute its own bottleneck.

    – That the specie that colonize from Earth shares a LUCA is trivially true. But that is all they will share. Most likely there will be species that makes successful colonization attempts because we will diverge very rapidly and there will be no genetic crossover.

    You know, I can understand hero worship as much as the next person. But I don’t think it has ever been useful in informing about science (or anything else). If I’m wrong, I hope there are tangible results on that out there.

    1. Evolution does not have a goal as such. Using terms such as improving, or “more highly evolved” are somewhat misleading. A selection mechanism can “improve” a species or its lineage in its ability to survive an environment, or make better use of that environment. There is also an apparent increase in complexity of life with time. Yet none of this has a particular goal in mind, or some purpose with respect to betterment of life in general.

      The future evolution of our species might make us better adapted to survive the climate chaos we are setting up. A few thousand years after our global warming has ended it is likely there will be a glacial period — the pendulum swings the other way. Some human populations might become cold climate adapted. A crash in the human population will also be a genetic bottleneck, and if there are evolutionary divergences in our species that could be a further bottlenecking. Any species lineage which continues to bottleneck is evolving off the game table to extinction.

      The future of our species with respect to space is likely with self-adapting von Neumann probes, nano-bots, networks of them and so forth. I actually rather doubt it will involve us directly. Another sci-fi type of possibility for the future of our species is that we become cyborganically networked with our AI systems (we are taking amazing steps along this road already) and there might then be the “singularity event,” where the silicon or cyber part of the system assumes control over the organic part. Homo sapiens might then become cyber-domesticated to serve the network.

      An example of how we are becoming integrated into our information systems is the degree to which people seem obsessively compelled to engage iPhones and other device almost constantly. It will not be long before these are integrated into our senses directly, eg eye or retinal implants for visual virtual reality overlays, and then maybe eventual direct brain implants.

      Homo sapiens are already a self-domesticated species, and as with domesticated animals our brains shrunk over the last 20,000 years by about 5-10%. Dog brains are 25% smaller than their wolf relatives. So within the singularity event scenario we might end up as “workers” with even further reduced brains, and who perform lots of manual labor for the cyber-Earth-net. When they develop good enough robotic abilities they might put us to pasture — or death.


  9. The weak anthropic principle only says that the universe must be configured in such as way as to permit our existence. The debate over the source of solar energy back in the early-mid 20th century was much the same. The role of consciousness is unclear, and it is interesting to ponder whether or not there is some metaphysical element involved with conferring ontology to existence.

    Davies’ deistic ideas are quirky, but I don’t think there is anything with these parallels with religious ideas which impels us all to believe in Christianity. It is maybe similar to Capra pointing out the parallels between certain satori, or dualism, notions in Buddhism and complementarity in quantum theory. Care is of course needed to avoid falling into the trap of embracing these ideas as some theory of quantum minds or quantum gods and so forth. This only means the human mind has certain patterns in its operation, which makes it a modeler of the world.

    A measurement is a form of entanglement. The outcome we observe exists in a decoherent set, which is a sort of coarse graining over entanglements. Hartle has expounded on this some. So what we observe as a particular measurement outcome is due to an incomplete reference to an entanglement.


    1. Seems we are in agreement on these things. Maybe I was unclear on Davies’ entanglement, I meant that the problem is that entangled systems are not generally fully describable separately. (Coarse graining emerges from that in nice cases such as observation, fortunately.)

      Information and bits are relative to a system, and Davies’ problem comes only if you ascribe reality to bits instead of quantum states.

      1. In a funny sense reality is classical. Quantum mechanics is nonlocal and not real in a standard sense. The GHZ state illustrates Bell inequality violations for a single system, so it is not just a statistical result. So the appearance of a classical existence, even if on some level it is a bit of an illusion, is what we call “reality.”


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