My first experiences with stargazing were in the backyard of my grandfather's house in New Brunswick. Aided by several books about the constellations and Granddad's binoculars, my brother and I enjoyed numerous sightings of satellites and planets, stars and galaxies. I longed to see and learn more, so when the Cosmos TV series hit the airwaves I thought I could become an astronomer just like Carl Sagan.
He grew up in a relatively poor section of New York City, but his parents nurtured his early interest in science. After obtaining several degrees in physics and astronomy at the University of Chicago he began a long association with the United States space program. The gold records featuring the sounds of Earth that were sent with the two Voyager probes were developed by Sagan.
Among his most notable achievements were his many books that popularized science; Cosmos being one of the first. He hoped to increase scientific understanding in the general public as well as instill a healthy skepticism. In his later years he came to be regarded as a freethinker - a viewpoint which holds that truth should be formed on the basis of logic and reason, rather than tradition.
Sadly, he didn't live to see many long-term results of much of his work. He was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a type of leukemia. Despite three bone-marrow transplants he was unable to overcome the disease and died in 1996.
I never did become an astronomer, though not for lack of trying. Putting aside my high school music experience, I enrolled in a sciences program in junior college. By then I had seen the Cosmos series four times. However in my second term I hit what the professors called the "Calculus Wall". Many students had great difficulty with calculus, as it required a formidable amount of study. It took me three tries to pass it, upon which time I had to admit to myself that my creative brain just couldn't handle such analytical concepts. So I abandoned the hope to follow in Carl Sagan's footsteps and settled for an astronomy elective course while steering the remainder of my program toward the arts.
His influence stayed with me, though. Many of my personal opinions regarding religion, nuclear technology, and space travel were shaped by his ideas. The books he wrote continue to be reminders that the sky is not the limit. I still wish that I could have met him.