Science and Exploration

Survey Results Point Out Lack Of Diversity In Planetary Science Workplace

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
October 6, 2022
Filed under , ,
Survey Results Point Out Lack Of Diversity In Planetary Science Workplace
NASA JPL Mission Control Room During Curiosity Landing

A survey quantifying the long-standing lack of workplace diversity in planetary science offers NASA and other groups possible strategies to resolve the problem.

Survey results show that members of minoritized groups, including non-white scientists, scientists who are disabled, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or women, are underrepresented as Principal Investigators or Co-Investigators in planetary science spacecraft mission teams, said Julie Rathbun, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute who is lead author on the abstract “DEIA in Planetary Spacecraft Science Teams.”

“We already know that there are barriers to entry in planetary science for members of historically excluded groups,” Rathbun said. “These data show that even those who overcome those barriers face other, additional barriers to full participation in our field.”

The complete workforce survey and report is available at under DPS Surveys, 2020 Membership.

Rathbun discussed the survey Thursday at a press conference at the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in London, Ontario, Canada. The April 2020 membership survey of Planetary Scientists, which was conducted by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and funded by DPS, was used as input into the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.

“The 2022 Decadal Survey is the first to include consideration of the state of the profession and actions for enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the field,” Rathbun said. “The 2020 workforce survey included questions on demographics and respondents were also asked how many times have you been a PI on a mission proposal – never, once, two times, three times, more than four times – and how many times have you been a Co-I on a mission proposal.”

Of survey respondents, 37 percent self-identified as women, 15 percent as disabled, 10 as LGBTQ+, 7 percent as Black, Latinx or Indigenous and 1 percent as non-binary.

Results showed that respondents in those minoritized groups showed significantly lower percentages of PI and Co-I opportunities than non-minoritized planetary scientists.

And how can planetary science become more inclusive? “Many social scientists have been studying inclusivity for a long time and they have many suggestions. Of course, we don’t know which of these suggestions would be most impactful, but we need to try several of them and see what happens. The biggest suggestion is for NASA to implement new policies, such as using team diversity as a selection criteria, and for individual scientists to think more deeply about who they are working with and what perspectives might be missing,” Rathbun said.

We need all these perspectives to give a richer and better understanding in order to solve problems,” Rathbun said. “Pay attention to who you are working with. Look at your coauthor list, look at the distribution of speakers at a conference. Are they all white, all men, all American and not foreign? Think about that if you really want to have a diverse group. NASA knows that diverse groups do better science.”


The Planetary Science Institute is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to Solar System exploration. It is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, where it was founded in 1972.

PSI scientists are involved in numerous NASA and international missions, the study of Mars and other planets, the Moon, asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, impact physics, the origin of the Solar System, extra-solar planet formation, dynamics, the rise of life, and other areas of research. They conduct fieldwork on all continents around the world. They also are actively involved in science education and public outreach through school programs, children’s books, popular science books and art.

PSI scientists are based in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.