Exploration is arguably one of the noblest human endeavors. It leads to the widening of knowledge and the dispelling of myths, a deeper understanding of other people and how things work, and encourages a passion to learn more and more. Exploration can be physical or knowledge-based.
Explorers come in all forms: people who physically travel to other countries and cultures to explore the people and systems there, for example. Another type of explorer is a scientist or someone who explores a variety of possibilities to figure out how things actually work. Explorers are constantly searching for more information about their interest, and they are often generous enough to share the knowledge they gained with the rest of the world.
Two of the most famous American explorers in the modern day are Carl Sagan and Rick Steves. Carl Sagan, a professor of space sciences and planetary studies of Cornell University as well as a NASA consultant since the 1950s, was an extremely famous scientist who embraced the idea of exploration. Rick Steves is more of a physical explorer: he explores foreign lands and is always striving to find new, interesting places, so he can share his findings with the rest of the United States.
At the time of his death, Carl Sagan had become one of the most famous scientists not just in the United States, but in the world. He died at age 62 in the year 1996 from pneumonia, but his life was rich in discoveries and scientific contributions. He was particularly well known for his NASA advising, which he did start in the 1950s. His notable contributions there included briefing the Apollo astronauts before their monumental trip to the moon.
Sagan made plenty of important discoveries as well. He was a huge asset in figuring out why Venus is so hot, what causes the seasonal changes on Mars, and why Titan is red and hazy in its appearance. Not surprisingly, Sagan received four NASA awards, not to mention his awards from the American Astronautical Society, from the Explorers Club, from the Soviet Cosmonauts Federation, and from the American Astronomical Society. Sagan’s contributions to planetary science were extraordinary, and the world recognized that.
Part of Sagan’s amazing talent is the fact that he was such an excellent communicator of his discoveries and of science topics in general, and what their importance to the world is. He made science interesting and relevant to the average person – an accomplishment that doesn’t come naturally to many scientists. He wrote many books (including many bestsellers), including Cosmos and The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize). In short, his works and awards are almost too many to count.
What Sagan wasn’t recognized for during his life, however, was his use of and appreciation for Cannabis. He wrote many an essay on the merits of Cannabis, although his writings were usually published under a pseudonym (“Mr. X”). It didn’t come out that Carl Sagan was actually the “Mr. X” from the book until three years or so after his death.
Sagan began smoking marijuana in his late 30s when his friend Dr. Lester Grinspoon provided him and his wife with some excellent quality marijuana. Impressed with its effects, he even requested to have the last remaining joint for himself because he had lots of work to do.
He became a secret contributor to Dr. Lester Grinspoon’s book, Marihuana Reconsidered, which was published in 1969. He described the effects of marijuana as altogether pleasant, giving him a new appreciation for the arts (visual and musical). He explained that the enjoyment of food was heightened, as are the other senses. Read more about his thoughts on cannabis.
One of his famous essay lines regarding Cannabis , include: “the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
He even credited marijuana with the increased rate of new ideas and better productivity, sometimes explaining that marijuana actually helped him come up with a new way of solving certain problems or questions within his field.
Sagan also described being high as giving him more interest and motivation in solving social issues. Whether it was racism, politics, sociology, philosophy, or human biology, he wrote a number of short essays on social issues while he was high. He then proceeded to use these essays in a number of his books, public lectures, university commencement addresses, and so on. In short, he did some quality work after using marijuana.
As Sagan grew older, he became outspoken about his stance on marijuana – especially medical marijuana. He questioned the fear that marijuana users could become addicted, saying “there’s no evidence whatever that it’s an addictive drug,” and that it was incredibly easy to use marijuana in moderation. He also pointed out the flaw in conventional thinking about marijuana when it came to AIDS patients or cancer patients. In an interview he said, “We’re worried they’re going to become addicted to marijuana…these people are dying, what are we saving them from?”
Rick Steves has been traveling since childhood when he visited piano factories with his father in Europe. His father was a piano importer. Once Steves turned 18, he began really diving into independent travel by going it alone (or with a friend). He taught piano lessons in order to make enough money to go traveling again.
His first trip to Europe with his father was in 1969, and by 1976 he had created his own business, called Rick Steves’ Europe. He ran it himself. He’s come a long way since then, as he now has more than a hundred full-time employees (all of whom are well-traveled and knowledgeable in European travel). The company continues to supply the public with free travel information online, in its Travel Center, and in its travel newsletter. It also has an extensive tour program through different parts of Europe, leading thousands of visitors on tours.
Rick Steves self-published his first book a year after he started his business. It was a book to give travelers the skills they need to travel through Europe as “temporary locals.” The book was titled Europe Through the Back Door, and it continues to be published today with yearly updates. Of course, by now he has written more than 50 other guide books of various types. They are some of the bestselling international guidebooks in the United States and are an everyday staple for any American looking to travel somewhere in Europe.
His successes don’t stop there, however. Steves also has hosted more than a hundred travel shows (all for public television) and has produced a TV series called Rick Steves’ Europe that has been carried by more than 300 stations in the United States. He also has made two specials, also for public television: Rick Steves’ European Christmas and Rick Steves’ Iran. To say his name is now a brand in itself would be putting it mildly.
Somehow Steves has also found the time to run a weekly public radio program, called Travel with Rick Steves. His program involves interviews with travel experts (different ones each week) and call-ins from listeners. His audio walking tours are also widely used for people checking out museums and neighborhoods. Believe it or not, Steves also is a newspaper columnist with Tribune Media Services. In short, he is considered the American authority for travel in Europe.
Steves has always stayed true to his message: use travel as a way to expand our perspectives and better connect with the world around us. He follows up this message by donating to various organizations, including the YWCA apartments (which house homeless single mothers), by hosting charity tours which give all proceeds (around $50,000 per tour) to Bread for the World Institute and helping various charities gain exposure nationwide.
Today, Rick Steves is a board member of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He also worked on the TV program Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation, which was produced by the ACLU. Steves is an outspoken proponent of decriminalizing marijuana use, and he’s not shy about saying so. In fact, he has several writings on his own website that say just that
And what do his readers think about his stance? In an interview, Steves said, “A lot of people hear what I think about marijuana, and they say, ‘We’re not going to take your tours or use your guidebooks anymore,’ and all I can think is Europe’s going to be more fun without you.”
For Rick Steves, standing up for marijuana is what’s good for America, even if it hurts his bottom line.