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NASA’s First Female Goddard Chief Sworn In On Carl Sagan’s "Pale Blue Dot"

Not content with just one first, Dr Makenzie Lystrup made history with her text choice too.


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

Dr Makenzie Lystrup swears her oath in front of NASA Chief Bill Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, and Carl Sagan. Image credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

Dr Makenzie Lystrup swears her oath in front of NASA Chief Bill Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, and Carl Sagan. Image credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

This week, Dr Makenzie Lystrup made history as the first female director of NASA’s Goddard Flight Center. Not content with just one first, Lystrup also made history as the first person to take their oath of office on a Carl Sagan book.

From one stargazer to another, Dr Lystrup was sworn in as the new director of Goddard – one of NASA’s largest space research laboratories – on Sagan’s 1994 classic, Pale Blue Dot.


In the US, for an official to take a position of office that comes under the federal government, you are required to swear allegiance to uphold the Constitution. Most often this is while placing your hand on a religious text that has meaning for the oath-taker, a Bible or similar – though there is no law that says the Bible is required.

This means that throughout history, texts used have included the Quran, the US Constitution, a Dr Seuss book, and a Superman comic, so Sagan is in interesting company.   

“Like many astronomers and space scientists, my passion started with watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on public television as a child. Sagan worked very hard to make science accessible and meaningful to everyone, and Pale Blue Dot emphasizes the importance of exploring our universe and understanding our home planet," Dr Lystrup said in a statement sent to IFLScience.

 "Given its personal significance to me and how its message resonates with the work we do at NASA Goddard on behalf of the world, it felt apropos to include it in the ceremony.”


NASA didn't directly acknowledge Lystrup’s choice of text at first, it was eagle-eyed Keith Cowing over at NASA Watch that highlighted it. Later, NASA Goddard shared the photo of Lystrup being sworn in, along with a quote from Sagan: “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot: A Vision Of The Human Future In Space was published in 1994, inspired by the famous 1990 Pale Blue Dot photograph taken by the Voyager 1 space probe before it traveled out of the Solar System and into interstellar space

The term “Pale Blue Dot” was coined by Sagan as he reflected on the significance of the photograph, which portrays Earth as a small, insignificant dot in what appears to be a beam of light (but is actually lens flare) in a vast cosmos. Sagan himself was instrumental in the photo being taken. It was his idea for Voyager to turn around and take the opportunity to image Earth and its companions before its mission to the edges of the Solar System took it too far away.

"There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world," wrote Sagan when the iconic image was first revealed to the world.


"To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."


spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy
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