Seth MacFarlane once included a gag on his animated TV comedy "Family Guy" about an "edited for rednecks" version of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," featuring an animated Sagan dubbed over to say that the earth is "hundreds and hundreds" of years old.
Jokes aside, his admiration for Sagan runs deep.
The Library of Congress announced Wednesday that, thanks to MacFarlane's generosity, it has acquired the personal papers of the late scientist and astronomer, who spoke to mass audiences about the mysteries of the universe and the origins of life. While MacFarlane never owned Sagan's papers, he covered the undisclosed costs of donating them to the library.
"All I did was write a check, but it's something that was, to me, worth every penny," MacFarlane told The Associated Press by phone from Los Angeles. "He's a man whose life's work should be accessible to everybody."
MacFarlane — creator of "Family Guy," ''American Dad!" and "The Cleveland Show" — met Sagan's widow and collaborator, Ann Druyan, at an event a few years ago that brought together Hollywood screenwriters and directors with scientists. They agreed to collaborate on a follow-up to "Cosmos," Sagan's acclaimed 1980 miniseries, with MacFarlane serving as producer. Astrophysicst Neil deGrasse Tyson will host the series, which is scheduled to begin production this fall.
MacFarlane said he watched "Cosmos" as a child and devoured all of Sagan's books.
"He was an enormous and profound influence in my life," MacFarlane said. "He played an essential role — some would say the only role at the time — in bridging the gap between the academic community and the general public."
A planetary astronomer and passionate advocate for science, Sagan contributed to a variety of NASA projects and conducted research on the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. He also studied climate change and the "nuclear winter" that could result from a nuclear war. He died in 1996 at age 62.
The papers — contained in more than 800 filing-cabinet drawers — include correspondence with other scientists, drafts of Sagan's academic articles and screenplay drafts for the movie "Contact," which was based on Sagan's novel. Also part of the collection: his grade-school report cards and a drawing he made as a child about the future of space exploration.
Druyan said Sagan would have been thrilled to see his life's work made available to the public.
"He was a citizen scientist," Druyan said by phone from her Ithaca, N.Y., home. "He really believed that science belonged to everyone, all of us. He was a 'small-d' democrat in the truest sense of the word."
The donation is part of a busy week for MacFarlane, whose first live-action film, "Ted," hits theaters Friday. While he's known more for crude humor than his interest in science, he hopes to push for a renewed commitment to space exploration. Although he's a liberal Democrat, he was impressed by Newt Gingrich's recent comments about establishing a colony on the moon.
"In the late '60s, they just assumed that would be a given, that things would continue to progress and that the space program would continue to evolve, and it was a no-brainer that we would have a presence on the moon by 2000," MacFarlane said. "We're so far away from that, and it should be embarrassing."
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