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News Release 97-018

NSF Posthumously Honors Carl Sagan

Distinguished Public Service Award cites scientist's lifetime of achievement

March 4, 1997

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named the late Carl Sagan, noted planetary scientist, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Emmy Award-winning television producer, to receive the agency's Distinguished Public Service Award for lifetime achievement.

The award is NSF's highest honor given to a private citizen for contributions to the agency's activities in science and education.

"Carl Sagan didn't just popularize science, he explained its relevance in ways the general public could understand and appreciate it," Neal Lane, NSF Director, said in announcing the award. "When you look at his career as a highly regarded astronomer at Cornell University whose research transformed planetary science, then see how he parlayed this knowledge for the benefit of the people into best-selling books and first-rate television, his gifts to mankind were infinite."

Lane praised Sagan for unlocking the doors to the scientific establishment, and through persistence, prevailed in making science more understandable and reachable to ordinary people.

"People often forget that Sagan was also an extraordinary and innovative teacher. I believe his ability to make his students full partners in the process of discovery led to much of his success when he took his messages to a broader audience," Lane said. "In that regard, Carl Sagan left us a challenge that will be immensely difficult to meet, but it is up to us, particularly scientists and engineers, to finish what he started."

The NSF Distinguished Public Service Award has been given to influential members of Congress, journalists, university presidents, researchers and others whose exceptional service or contributions of ideas, facilities, equipment, human resources and voluntary activities or consultations added significantly to NSF's mission. The award in memory of Carl Sagan is NSF's first since 1994.

NSF will present its award to Sagan's widow, Mrs. Ann Druyan, at the National Science Board's awards dinner to be held at the Department of State on May 7. The agency will present a citation and a gold medallion to Mrs. Druyan at the occasion.


Media Contacts
William C. Noxon, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, its budget is $8.1 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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