18 March 2014

The Planetary Society Announces Its Largest Single Donor Gift A $4.2 Million Donation Re-affirming Its Leadership Role In Planetary Science, Space Exploration and Public Involvement

The Planetary Society, co-founded by Carl Sagan and today the world’s leading space interest group, has announced a donation of $4.2 million, the largest single donation in its history. The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a member of the Society.
“This remarkable gift from a Planetary Society Member will enable us to further carry out our mission: We advance space science and exploration for the betterment of humankind,” said Bill Nye, The Science Guy and Planetary Society CEO. “We want everyone everywhere to understand the cosmos and our place within it. This gift will have a major impact on getting us there. I share our donor’s confidence that this gift will spur others to give, knowing their donations will go even further.”
The Planetary Society plans to use this generous donation to aggressively expand its unique portfolio of technology, research, advocacy, and education programs, including:
  • The LightSail® solar sail mission, which is developing two cubesat spacecraft with revolutionary new solar sail technology, allowing them to maneuver in space using pure sunlight. This gift will ensure the continued refinement of the LightSail hardware, educational and public outreach programs, and new ways to move this technology forward to enable a new generation of low-cost small cubesat missions.
  • Planetary Defense. The Planetary Society runs the Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Objects Grant program that provides needed funding to highly skilled amateur astronomers to discover, track, and characterize near-Earth objects. With funding from the Shoemaker grant program, an amateur observer discovered asteroid 2012DA14, which in February 2013 buzzed by the Earth at a distance closer than our communications satellites. To date, The Planetary Society has given over $300,000 in grants to astronomers around the world.
This $4.2 Million gift will also continue the support of the Society’s Laser Bees project, an asteroid deflection concept using a swarm of small spacecraft to emit laser bursts to vaporize portions of an asteroid’s surface to push the asteroid slowly out of harm’s way. Developed by scientists at the University of Strathclyde, laboratory tests are happening now in Scotland.
  • Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The Society has partnered with Harvard professor Dr. Paul Horowitz to search the skies for bursts of high-intensity light that could be the signature of intelligent civilizations. This novel approach complements past and present radio-based searches. The Society recently helped to fund upgrade to the Planetary Society All-Sky Optical SETI Telescope in Harvard, MA, to better remove false-detections caused by natural phenomena.
  • Exoplanet Detection. The Society is supporting Yale-researcher Debra Fischer and her team to search for exoplanets around our nearest stellar companions at Alpha Centauri.
  • Space Advocacy. The Planetary Society plays a critical role in the education and empowerment of the public to participate in the political decisions of space exploration and this new additional funding will expand those opportunities.
  • Education and Outreach. This gift will support expansion of The Planetary Society’s education materials, including the Society’s ad-free website, www.planetary.org; the newly created Bruce Murray Space Image Library; the highly informative full-color quarterly magazine, The Planetary Report, that will benefit from expanded student sections and interactive content; and the weekly podcast and public radio series, Planetary Radio, now in its 11th year.
  • The Carl Sagan Fund for the Future. Named in honor of the Society’s co-founder Carl Sagan, this growing reserve fund ensures the long-term financial health of the Society.
The Planetary Society will also use the newly donated funds to increase staff in crucial areas, including education and outreach, marketing, and development, which will help to grow membership and position the organization for continued expansion.
Bill Nye noted that the gift coincides with The Planetary Society’s strategic planning process. “The timing of this amazing gift is terrific, because our President Jim Bell just spearheaded a survey of our Members on where their Planetary Society should be heading. The additional funding enables us to think big and integrate our Members’ insights and recommendations.”
“This is a defining moment for The Planetary Society,” said Board Chair Daniel T. Geraci, “We now have the opportunity to make the kind of impactful decisions that will truly 'change the world'.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Diane Murphy (dianewmurphy@gmail.com)