"The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be." - Carl Sagan.
"A generation ago, the astronomer Carl Sagan stood here and launched hundreds of millions of us on a great adventure - the exploration of the universe revealed by science. It's time to get going again." - Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
The first line up there includes the iconic words that Carl Sagan uttered when the original Cosmos - A Personal Voyage opened in the eighties. The second line opened the follow-up series titled Cosmos - A Spacetime Odyssey which aired last Sunday with Tyson as the host, who pays tribute to Sagan through these words.
The first episode in A Spacetime Odyssey is titled "Standing Up in the Milky Way", and the core intention of the almost hour long content here was to make the viewers understand where Earth stands with respect to the other celestial objects that make up the "observable" universe. Let's pause for a moment here and try to fully comprehend the use of the word 'observable'. Tyson, in his deep and highly comforting voice tells us "the observable universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old. There are stars out there in the unexplored universe that are so far away that there light will take more than 13.8 billion years to reach us."
The first episode was aired simultaneously across 10 networks in America and many other channels all over the world. There is a sense of nostalgia in watching Cosmos on TV with your family, where the background music is scored by Alan Silvestri (the man behind the iconic music in the Back to the Future sci-fi trilogy among other accomplishments) but with the evolution of VFX over the last 34 years (the gap between the two shows), having a screening on the large screen was quite inevitable. The theatre in this story happened to be Austin's Paramount Theatre which also saw Tyson and Ann Druyan, the widow of Sagan and the co-writer of the eighties' show, personally field questions among a live audience.
Tyson did not fail to see the irony of airing the heavily scientifically leaning program on FOX network, which is home to FOX news - the go-to news network for right wing Christians who believe in creationism, have doubts about Darwin's theory of Evolution and think global warming is a myth propagated by the liberal media. But he was also quick to counter that argument saying it was necessary to choose FOX as the network for such a show because that way the writers could reach out to the people who needed the most amount of convincing. This response is not surprising considering how one of Tyson's most famous quotes is - "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it". When Druyan was asked how she'd describe the show, she kept it concise saying "equal parts rigorous scepticism and wonder".
Speaking of irony, this is also a very important time to talk about NASA. Without NASA a show like Cosmos would have never been possible - not now and not in the eighties either. The pictures of the surface of the moon, of Earth from the moon, of the other planets, of the Milky Way, of Andromeda - one of our neighbouring galaxies, etc. - all of these have been physically captured by NASA. But for NASA, this current administration has not been the most favorable one. There have been major budget cuts which have resulted in lesser amount of research and development work in NASA.
Considering all of this, having President Obama introducing the show was probably taken with a pinch of salt by many a science-supporting people. The suits in the Congress in US are not the most loved people by the brains working in NASA and so having their boss welcome one the most awaited shows was probably the most ironic thing on TV you've ever seen.
Another interesting aspect about the show is that the main producer behind the scenes is none other than Seth Macfarlane, who's probably most famous as the creator of animated comedy sitcom, Family Guy. From that to Cosmos is obviously a huge leap and a lot of people who do not know much about the person might consider this quite ironic. But Macfarlane has been quite vocal about this support for the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive at the Library of Congress and his openly critical views about American television. He has gone on record stating "The continuance of our journey outward into space should always occupy some part of our collective attention, regardless of whatever Snooki did last week", a clear jab at mind-numbing shows like Jersey Shore.
Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important and amazing part of the new show, we also have to understand the timing of this release. Americans and the world in general are at a crossroad where religion plays a huge role in world affairs even though there have been many examples of how that is a hugely problematic thing in this modern world. By getting a famous and popular astrophysicist like Neil DeGrasse Tyson to host the show, the scientific lobby has managed to hit a homerun. While in the 80's, Sagan was just a "science-guy" talking about space exploration, today Tyson is the agnostic host of Cosmos who's clearly a champion for the scientific way of thinking.