The Planetary Society
Formation1980; 44 years ago (1980)
TypeNon-governmental and nonprofit foundation, 501(c)(3)
Registration no.C0946337
FieldsSpace advocacy
Key people
Louis Friedman, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson
Planetary Society founders (1980 photo). Clockwise from bottom left: Bruce Murray; Louis Friedman; Harry Ashmore (advisor); Carl Sagan

The Planetary Society is an American internationally-active non-governmental nonprofit organization.[1] It is involved in research, public outreach, and political space advocacy for engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, and space exploration. It was founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman,[2] and has about 60,000 members from more than 100 countries around the world.[3]

The Society is dedicated to the exploration of the Solar System, the search for near-Earth objects, and the search for extraterrestrial life.[4] The society's mission is stated as: "Empowering the world’s citizens to advance space science and exploration."[5] The Planetary Society is a strong advocate for space funding and missions of exploration within NASA. They lobby Congress and engage their membership in the United States to write and call their representatives in support of NASA funding.[5]

In addition to public outreach, The Planetary Society has sponsored solar sail and microorganisms-in-space projects to foster space exploration. In June 2005, the Society launched the Cosmos 1 craft to test the feasibility of solar sailing, but the rocket failed shortly after liftoff.[6][7] LightSail was originally conceived as a series of three solar sail experiments[8] but later shortened to two missions. LightSail 1 launched on May 20, 2015,[9] and demonstrated a test deployment of its solar sail on June 7, 2015.[10] LightSail 2 launched on June 25, 2019,[11] and successfully used sunlight to change its orbit.[12]

Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE), was a two-part program designed to test the ability of microorganisms to survive in space.[13] The first phase flew on STS-134, Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight in 2011.[14] The second phase rode on Russia's Fobos-Grunt mission, which attempted to go to Mars' moon Phobos and back but failed to escape Earth orbit.[15]


The Planetary Society was founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman as a champion of public support of space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life. Until the death of Carl Sagan in 1996, the Society was led by Sagan, who used his celebrity and political clout to influence the political climate of the time, including protecting SETI in 1981 from congressional cancellation. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Society pushed its scientific and technologic agenda, which led to an increased interest in rover-based planetary exploration and NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.[citation needed]

In addition to its political affairs, the Society has created a number of space related projects and programs. The SETI program began with Paul Horowitz's Suitcase SETI and has grown to encompass searches in radio and optical wavelengths from the northern and southern hemispheres of the Earth. SETI@home, the largest distributed computing experiment on Earth, is perhaps the Society's best-known SETI project. Other projects include the development of the Mars Microphone instrument which flew on the failed Mars Polar Lander project, as well as two LightSail projects, solar sail technology demonstrators designed to determine whether space travel is possible by using only sunlight.[citation needed]

Program summary

The Planetary Society currently runs seven different program areas with a number of programs in each area:


The Planetary Society is currently governed by a 12-member volunteer board of directors chosen for their passion about and knowledge of space exploration. The Board has a chairman, President, and Vice President and an Executive Committee, and normally meets twice per year to set the Society's policies and future directions. Nominations are sought and considered periodically from a variety of sources, including from members of the Board and Advisory Council, Society Members, staff, and experts in the space community.[16] On June 7, 2010, the Society announced that American science educator Bill Nye would become the new executive director of the society.[17]


The Planetary Society's current board of directors consists of:

The advisory council consists of:

Other well known members:

Science and technology

The Planetary Society sponsors science and technology projects to seed further exploration. All of these projects are funded by the Society's members and donors. Some projects include:

The Planetary Report

The Planetary Report is the quarterly internationally recognized flagship magazine of The Planetary Society, featuring articles and full-color photos to provide comprehensive coverage of discoveries on Earth and other planets. It went from bimonthly to quarterly with the June (summer solstice) 2011 issue.

This magazine reaches 60,000 members of The Planetary Society all over the world, with news about planetary missions, spacefaring nations, space explorers, planetary science controversies, and the latest findings in humankind's exploration of the Solar System. It will be edited beginning in September 2018 by Emily Lakdawalla, who takes over from Donna Stevens.[3]

Planetary Radio

The Planetary Society also produces Planetary Radio, a weekly 30-minute radio program and podcast hosted and produced by Sarah Al-Ahmed. The show's programming consists mostly of interviews and telephone-based conversations with scientists, engineers, project managers, artists, writers, astronauts, and many other professionals who can provide some insight or perspective into the current state of space exploration.

Science and Technology Empowered by the Public program

In 2022, the Planetary Society awarded its first grants as part of its Science and Technology Empowered by the Public (STEP) program. The inaugural grant winners were a team from University of California, Los Angeles for a SETI project and a team from University of Belgrade, Serbia, for a planetary defense project.[19] is funded by the Planetary Society, and uses the internet forum software Invision Power Board from Invision Power Services.[20][21][22][23]

See also


  1. ^ "About Us". The Planetary Society. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  2. ^ Spangenburg, Ray; Moser, Diane (2004), Carl Sagan: a biography, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 107, ISBN 978-0-313-32265-5
  3. ^ a b Lakdawalla, E. (July 23, 2018). "Hello from the new editor of The Planetary Report". The Planetary Society. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Planetary Society encourages exploration of the universe to find extraterrestrial life", Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1983
  5. ^ a b The Planetary Society (2022). "About Us". The Planetary Society. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  6. ^ "No Signal From Solar Sail Spacecraft", Fox News, June 21, 2005, archived from the original on October 23, 2012, retrieved July 28, 2009
  7. ^ Asaravala, Amit (June 23, 2005), "Reality of Cosmos 1 Loss Sets In", Wired
  8. ^ "LightSail: A Multi-Mission Project" Archived April 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, The Planetary Society website. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  9. ^ "Liftoff! LightSail Sails into Space aboard Atlas V Rocket". The Planetary Society. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  10. ^ "Deployment! LightSail Boom Motor Whirrs to Life". The Planetary Society. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  11. ^ "LightSail 2 Has Launched!". The Planetary Society. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  12. ^ "LightSail 2 Spacecraft Successfully Demonstrates Flight by Light". The Planetary Society. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  13. ^ "LIFE Experiment: Shuttle & Phobos: FAQ", The Planetary Society website. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  14. ^ "Planetary Society Welcomes Home Shuttle LIFE Passengers", press release, The Planetary Society website, June 1, 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-15.
  15. ^ "'January re-entry' for Phobos-Grunt Mars probe", BBC News, December 16, 2011
  16. ^ "Board of Directors", The Planetary Society webpage. Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  17. ^ "Bill Nye Signs on as Planetary Society's New Executive Director" Archived November 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, press release, The Planetary Society website, June 7, 2010. Retrieved 2011-03-15.
  18. ^ "Projects – SETI@home – Recent updates". Planetary Society. May 26, 2009. Archived from the original on July 15, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2010.
  19. ^ Gunn, Danielle (March 16, 2022). "The Planetary Society announces first-ever winners of new STEP grant program" (Press release). The Planetary Society. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  20. ^ "Search Help Topics". The_Planetary_Society. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  21. ^ "Community Forum, Blog, Gallery, CMS". Invision Power Services, Inc. Archived from the original on February 20, 2010. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  22. ^ "The moderating team". The_Planetary_Society. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  23. ^ "Today's top 20 posters". The_Planetary_Society. Retrieved June 19, 2022.