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Carl Sagan was perhaps the most well-known and effective advocate of the science of habitable planets. A video recording of one of his finest lectures, given just two years before his 1996 death, was recently rediscovered and posted to YouTube:…

Please watch this lecture (you may skip the Q&A section), and then revisit the Drake equation to which we have referred frequently throughout the class. Sagan was, in fact, an attendee at the small 1961 meeting where Frank Drake first conceived this equation. Now write at least 1 page (single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1 inch margins) about what you have learned from watching and thinking about Sagan’s lecture. In particular, please address

1) How do Sagan’s arguments affect your own personal estimations of one or more terms in the Drake equation?

2) This lecture was given nearly a quarter century ago. Are you surprised by how much we knew back then?

3) If you could speak with Sagan today, what discoveries from the 22 years since his death (as discussed in our class, and relating to the terms in Drake’s equation) would you be most excited to share with him?

The above questions are suggestions meant to stimulate your thinking, but any thoughts you have in response to the lecture and how it relates to our course material would be appropriate. Please feel free to discuss your ideas with others, but your response must be original and written in your own words. Cheating/copying—from each other or from websites—will not be tolerated.

Optional Bonus Writing Assignment

What follows is merely an opportunity for you to supplement your grade, if you so choose; no points will be deducted if you do not complete this additional component. If completed, it may be worth up to half as many points as a normal writing assignment.

As you may know, the United States held its biannual Congressional elections earlier this month. Science is intrinsically apolitical, but government does provide much of the funding for it, and science in turn can (and arguably should!) be used to support government policies. Thus any change in who governs can affect how science is performed and applied in the years to come. The following article provides an optimistic (if superficial) assessment of this month’s US election results for science:

Whereas this article, focusing on one particular Congressional district race, has a more pessimistic take, relating specifically to the science of planetary habitability:…

Please read the above articles (and, if interested, a third describing actual scientists and engineers who ran for Congress: Then write a letter (at least 1 page, single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1 inch margins) to your own Congressional representative, welcoming them to (or back to) office, and describing how you feel that science should influence their policy-making over the next two years. (If you do not have your own US Congressional representative, then you may write to John Lewis, who represents Georgia’s 5th congressional district which, geographically, includes Tech.) You may argue for particular scientific areas or projects to receive additional funding, or for existing scientific results to be incorporated into policy decisions, or both – as long as your arguments are based on the scientific knowledge you have gained through this course.

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