The Planetary Society Appoints Bethany Ehlmann As New President

Planetary scientist brings wealth of space science, space policy and public outreach expertise

For Immediate Release
December 08, 2020

Danielle Gunn
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

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Meet our new president, Bethany Ehlmann Ehlmann is a professor of planetary science at Caltech and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in public outreach, space policy, planetary science, and astrobiology in her role as president of the Board of Directors of The Planetary Society.

Pasadena, CA (8 December 2020) — The Planetary Society, the world’s largest independent space interest organization, announced the appointment of Bethany Ehlmann, professor of planetary science at Caltech to become its next president.

Dr. Ehlmann brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in public outreach, space policy, planetary science, and astrobiology. She is principal investigator of the upcoming Lunar Trailblazer mission and a member of the science teams for multiple Mars rovers (Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance) as well as the CRISM imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. She was an affiliate of the Dawn orbiter mission team exploring Ceres, is on the upcoming EMIT space station-based imaging spectrometer team that will measure mineralogy of Earth’s dust source regions, and is working to propose mission and instrument concepts for ocean worlds, Venus, the Moon, asteroids, and Earth. In 2018, she published Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System with National Geographic.

"I grew up influenced by Carl Sagan’s sense of wonder at the complexity of the universe and vision of humanity’s place in the cosmos. I am deeply honored to lead the Society he co-founded, with its decades-long history in advancing space exploration and a forward-looking, positive vision for humanity,” said Ehlmann. “Right now, we truly live in an exciting time for space access and exploration. From the search for life to planetary defense to the exploration of our solar system and beyond, I look forward to working with the Society team to share this excitement around the world and inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Ehlmann replaces Jim Bell, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, who has been president of The Planetary Society since 2008. Bell will remain an active member of the Board.

“I am super excited about this transition for the Society,” said Bell, “I have known and admired Bethany since she was an undergrad just getting started in planetary science, and have followed with awe her amazing rocket-like career trajectory. I know that she is committed to advancing the Society’s goals and that she will do so with competence, collegiality, and charisma.”

“Dr. Bethany Ehlmann is stepping in and stepping up to become our next Planetary Society president. I am delighted,” said Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, “Bethany impresses everyone with her thoughtfulness and passion for exploration and for the Society. Just like her predecessor, the amazing Jim Bell, who’s served us as President for 12 years, Bethany is a natural leader. And like Dr. Bell, she is the real deal as a planetary scientist. We’re in an exciting time in space exploration. With Doctor Ehlmann at the helm, our future looks fantastic.”

Ehlmann is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, a former Mineralogical Society of America Distinguished Lecturer, a recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s Macelwane medal, the American Astronomical Society Planetary Science Division Urey prize, and COSPAR’s Zeldovich medal, as well as NASA Group Achievement Awards.

Originally from Tallahassee, FL, after bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Oxford, respectively, she earned her Ph.D. and master’s in geological sciences as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Brown University. She was a European Union Marie Curie Fellow at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France.

Responsible for governing and setting the organization’s policies and future directions, The Planetary Society’s volunteer Board of Directors is made up of leaders chosen for their passion for and knowledge of space exploration and business leadership.

The Board now comprises 12 appointees: Daniel T. Geraci, chairman; Bethany Ehlmann, president; Heidi Hammel, vice president; Bill Nye, CEO; C. Wallace Hooser, secretary; Lon Levin, treasurer; Jim Bell; John Logsdon; Robert Picardo; Britney Schmidt; Bijal “Bee” Hayes-Thakore; and Fillmore Wood.

About The Planetary Society

With a global community of more than 2 million space enthusiasts, The Planetary Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization. Founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman and today led by CEO Bill Nye, we empower the public to take a meaningful role in advancing space exploration through advocacy, education outreach, scientific innovation, and global collaboration. Together with our members and supporters, we’re on a mission to explore worlds, find life off Earth, and protect our planet from dangerous asteroids. To learn more, visit