In its first airing, Cosmos created a new star, Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan. The seminal series opened the eyes of millions to the universe and made a science celebrity out of Sagan.
Now astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson is stepping up to star in a 13-part remake of the series on the National Geographic Channel and Fox. The first show airs on Sunday, March 9 (at 9 p.m. ET/PT), and will be broadcast in more than 70 nations—the biggest launch ever for a global TV series. National Geographic spoke to Tyson, the director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, about life, the universe, and the "cosmic perspective" Cosmos will offer viewers.
Why re-create Cosmos? Why now?
Any time is good for Cosmos. A lot of things have come together to make this the right time to do it. We have come so far in the last 34 years—more than a generation. Clearly it’s time for another Cosmos. Since then we have discovered a thousand new planets. A lot has changed. Back in 1980 we were trapped in a Cold War mind-set, which polarized people and affected everything. People thought of the environment as a local thing. They didn't think of the global environment and how we are all connected.
What's new about this Cosmos?
With Cosmos, this version, we're able to bring a whole tool kit of storytelling cinematics to bear on the science, the history, the culture, and the politics to fill people with a sense of wonder about our universe. It might even impact people spiritually. I mean that with a little s. That’s the reaction some people might feel by gaining the cosmic perspective—seeing that we are just a small part of the vastness of everything. But that can be emotionally fulfilling in a very deep way.
What are the most important advances you’ve seen since 1980 that the new Cosmos will consider?
The purpose of Cosmos is not to be a textbook to tell people about the latest discoveries. The whole point of telling these stories is to allow you to understand that science, the scientific method, is central to all of our lives. Yes, we'll learn more science, about the scientific method. But what we really want is for people to say, "Wow, I didn't know we were all connected in that way." That's the goal.
Why is understanding the scientific method so important?
Because it's how we make discoveries and how we understand and survive in our world today. Just think for how long humanity was controlled by mystical, magical thinking—the diseases and suffering that led to. We managed to survive, but just barely. It wasn't pretty.