When Carl Sagan died of pneumonia in 1996, he left behind a legacy in science, astronomy, and communications. Since its inception, Sagan played a key role in the American space program as an advisor and consultant to NASA, where he briefed Apollo astronauts before launching to the moon. He also helped solve the mysteries of the high temperatures on Venus, the seasonal changes on Mars, and the reddish haze of Saturn’s moon, Titan. Sagan was later described as “the scientist who made the Universe clearer to the ordinary person.” He popularized science through his television show “Cosmos”, which was seen by over 500 million viewers, and the hundreds of articles he penned.  

In 1969, Sagan penned one of these articles under the pseudonym “Mr. X” in order to secretly describe the benefits of smoking marijuana. His identity as the author wasn’t publicly disclosed until Keay Davidson published “Carl Sagan: A Life” in 1999. In the article, he explains his experience smoking marijuana, “I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high… One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics.”

Years later, Sagan dropped the fake name and became more of an outspoken advocate for marijuana, arguing that medical marijuana should be legal for cancer and AIDS patients. Sagan believed that the government’s official stance on marijuana was highly irrational, “Is it rational to forbid patients who are dying from taking marijuana as a palliative to permit them to gain body weight and to get some food down? It seems madness to say, ‘We’re worried that they’re going to become addicted to marijuana’ — there’s no evidence whatever that it’s an addictive drug, but even if it were, these people are dying, what are we saving them from?”