Press Release

Planetary Society Receives Largest Single Donor Gift

By SpaceRef Editor
March 17, 2014
Filed under
Planetary Society Receives Largest Single Donor Gift

The Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan and today the world’s leading space interest group, announced that it has received a $4.2 million gift, 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 continue to 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 our cosmos and, importantly, 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 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- and 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 and track near-Earth objects. With funding from the Shoemaker grant program, an amateur observer discovered asteroid 2012DA14 in January 2013 — which buzzed by the Earth at a distance closer than our communications satellites and eluded all government observatories. 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 the asteroid’s surface and push the asteroid slowly out of harm’s way. Developed by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, hardware 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 upgrades to a telescope near Harvard, MA, to better remove false-detections of 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 and websites, including the Society’s ad-free website,; the newly created Bruce Murray Space Image Library; and the highly informative full-color quarterly magazine, The Planetary Report, including the popular student content weekly podcast and the 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, 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.’”

Diane Murphy
+1 202.361.9681

The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. Today, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a long time member of the Planetary Society’s Board, serves as CEO. The Planetary Society supports several projects, including the Shoemaker Grants, which are helping to find near Earth objects and test techniques that may allow humanity to deflect a NEO.

SpaceRef staff editor.