Does This Big New Grant to the Planetary Society Mean Space Is Getting Hot Again?

It’s turning out to be a pretty good year for public awareness of the study of space. There’s the whole Big Bang theory discovery that’s exploded across headlines and social media, of course. Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos recently made a return to television, hosted by science rockstar Neil deGrasse Tyson. And Sagan’s planetary science advocacy group just landed a $4.2 million gift.

Add that to the Mars Curiosity fanfare, and the 21 million views of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity video, and there seems to be a renaissance of public interest in astronomy and space exploration. 

Is it possible we’ll see a surge in funding for education and outreach on the subject? 

An anonymous donor seems to hope that’s the case, having made a $4.2 million gift to the Planetary Society in anticipation of others being inspired and jumping on the bandwagon. The Planetary Society is a nonprofit founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman. It’s a membership-based organization that educates the public, advocates for NASA funding, and supports astronomy research. The Society has annual dues of around 40 bucks, but one society member made a hell of a renewal, the largest donation the group has ever received.

The Society isn’t exactly a household name, but it’s quite active, with more than 40,000 members, celebrity CEO Bill Nye, and regular magazine, radio and podcast outreach. They advocate for space exploration and even fund some research, mostly related to monitoring space. 

“We want everyone everywhere to understand the cosmos and our place within it,” Nye said in a statement. “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.” 

Planetariums and science centers are regular favorites for science education funders, but maybe we’re going to see an emerging swell of philanthropy for education about the cosmos. After all, philanthropists love a good trend, and they love being part of something bigger. And what’s bigger than space?

Carl would be so proud.