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Planetary Society

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Title: Planetary Society  
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Subject: Extraterrestrial life, Harrison Schmitt, Lagrangian point, Search for extraterrestrial intelligence, Space colonization, 4 Vesta, Atlas (moon), Rhea (moon), Cassini–Huygens, Mars trilogy
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Planetary Society

The Planetary Society
Type NGO and Non-profit Foundation
Key people Carl Sagan, Bruce C. Murray, Louis Friedman, Bill Nye
Mission To inspire the people of Earth to explore other worlds, understand our own, and seek life elsewhere.
Method(s) Space advocacy
Members +40,000

The Planetary Society is an American-based non-government, nonprofit organization supported by more than forty thousand international members; anyone can join. It is involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach, and political advocacy. It was founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman,[1] and has members from more than one hundred countries around the world.

The Society is dedicated to the exploration of the Solar System, the search for Near Earth Objects, and the search for extraterrestrial life.[2]

In addition to public outreach, the Planetary Society also sponsors novel and innovative projects that will "seed" further 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.[3][4]

The Planetary Society runs many programs. Two of the highest profile programs are Lightsail and LIFE (Living Interplanetary Life Experiment.) Lightsail is a series of three ultralight spacecraft which will be propelled by sunlight.[5] As of May 2011 Lightsail1 is undergoing deployment tests and is scheduled to piggyback on a future NASA mission.[6] LIFE is a two-part program designed to test the ability of microorganisms to survive in space.[7] The first phase involves sending carefully packaged microorganisms into low earth orbit on a space shuttle.[8] Shuttle LIFE was scheduled to fly on shuttle Endeavor's final flight on May 16, 2011 and return to earth on June 1.[9] The second phase rode on Russia's Fobos-Grunt mission, which attempted to go to Mars' moon Phobos and back. This three-year mission was designed to test the survivability of microorganisms in interplanetary flight and was set to launch some time in mid-Oct to mid-Nov 2011.[7] On November 8, 2011 Fobos-Grunt successfully launched, but for reasons unknown failed to escape earth orbit. Roscosmos has given up on the probe leaving earth orbit and it is predicted to return to earth sometime in early January 2012.[10] However, the LIFE program is still continuing, due to the ongoing analyses of the microorganisms flown on the Shuttle LIFE mission and, according to Bruce Betts himself, another ride of LIFE is considered.[11]

In addition to its projects, The Planetary Society is also a strong advocate for space funding and missions of exploration within NASA. They actively lobby Congress and engage their membership in the United States to write and call their representatives in support of NASA funding.


The society's mission is: "To inspire and involve the world's public in space exploration through advocacy, projects, and education".[12]


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 his death in 1996, the Society was actively 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.

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 the LightSail-1 project, a solar sail project to determine if space travel is possible by using only sunlight.

Program summary

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


The Planetary Society is governed by a 17-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.[13] On June 7, 2010, the Society announced that famed American science educator Bill Nye would become the new executive director of the society.[14]


The Planetary Society's current Board of Directors includes the following:[13]

Notable members of its Advisory Council include:[15]


The Planetary Society sponsors projects to seed further exploration. Some projects are mostly done in collaboration with the Russians, especially the Russian Federal Space Agency. Members privately fund these projects:

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 over 100,000 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.

Planetary Radio

Main article: Planetary Radio

Members of The Planetary Society also host a podcast.


External links

  • The Planetary Society official site
  • MarsDrive Consortium
  • Planetary Society Facebook site
  • Planetary Society YouTube channel
  • Planetary Society Volunteer Network
  • Bruce Betts' Twitter site (Random Space Facts)
  • Mat Kaplan's Twitter site (Planetary Radio)
  • Emily Lakdawalla's Twitter site (Planetary Society Blog)
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