Q&A: Ann Druyan on Preserving Carl Sagan’s Memory and Inspiring a New Generation of Science Lovers

Careful with partnerships, she entrusted Apple with 'Pale Blue Dot'

Ann Druyan

Forty years ago, Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan tackled one of the most ambitious creative projects in human history: summarizing our species in a message that will likely outlast our entire civilization.

The Voyager spacecraft’s “Golden Record,” literally made from gold and packed with images and sounds of Earth, was launched into space in 1977 and is making its way beyond our solar system in hopes of reaching intelligent alien life.

The two passionate science advocates and authors would go on to create several collaborations, including the PBS hit miniseries Cosmos: A Personal Journey, which debuted a year before the two were married in 1981.

Since Sagan’s death in 1996, Druyan has served as a “keeper of the flame” for his writings—which remain in high demand, with usage requests coming in weekly—while also continuing to build on her own influential body of work, such as the 2014 revival of Cosmos on Fox.

Adweek recently spoke with Druyan about her decision to allow Apple to use Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” monologue, Cosmos’ first audiobook (narrated by LaVar Burton), the power of Hollywood to inspire careers and the rise of young, social media savvy STEM advocates.

Check out our interview below:

Adweek: How did the Apple ‘Pale Blue Dot’ ad come about? When did they first reach out to you about that?
Author and producer Ann Druyan: We’ve been talking about it for a couple years, and it was actually only shortly before it aired that we decided to move forward together. So it was just a relatively brief amount of time [between approval and execution], but actually the gestation was a year and half or something like that. Their agency reached out to me, and we talked, and we continued the conversation. We’d drop it for months at a time.

"I don’t want to ever license anything associated with Carl or our work together without really weighing the impact, the meaning and significance of using it."
Ann Druyan

I get requests for licensing parts of “Pale Blue Dot” every week. This has been going on for maybe a decade. I am, I hope, extremely discriminating in that regard. I consider myself a keeper of the flame. I’m always asking myself, “What would Carl do?” I also have my own values, which are part of this, but I don’t want to ever license anything associated with Carl or our work together without really weighing the impact, the meaning and significance of using it.

So it just really all came together really in the last couple weeks as a conviction that it was a good idea to do it.

It feels like science has become much more politicized since your days of working with NASA in the 1970s. Do you feel that way, or was it just that the political pressures on science weren’t as visible to the public?
It’s always been political. You can certainly tell that from the kinds of people who’ve been historically excluded from science. There’s no way to separate the human components from a human enterprise, which is what science is.

Of course it’s been stained by politics, but there have also been moments where science and politics came together in a way that was inspiring. So I don’t think you can ever say it wasn’t political, and remember that when the scientific revolution really got started, the stranglehold on human thought was much greater. So it had a much greater institutional opposition to contend with than it does now.

What’s happened most recently is the sense that we’ve known about climate change for about 100 years, really. We’ve understood that lofting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is going to have an effect on climate for a very long time.

Ann Druyan and husband Carl Sagan in 1984
Getty Images

What’s happened more recently is the sense that the predictions of the climate scientists are coming true, and what was an abstraction is now the 11 hottest years in history being the last 11 years. That suggests that the climate scientists have been right all along, and I think that’s finally penetrating and permeating popular culture.