Bethany Ehlmann Head Shot

Bethany Ehlmann

President, Board of Directors of The Planetary Society; Professor of Planetary Science, California Institute of Technology; Associate Director, Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech

Bethany Ehlmann joined The Planetary Society’s Board of Directors in 2018. She is a professor of planetary science at Caltech and served for many years also as a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 2018, she published the children’s book Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System with National Geographic.

Bethany’s research focuses on the mineralogy and chemistry of planetary surfaces, remote sensing techniques and instruments, astrobiology, and science policy and outreach. She is principal investigator of the NASA Lunar Trailblazer small satellite mission to map water on the Moon, with flight system delivery scheduled in October 2022.  Much of her other recent scientific work has focused on unraveling Mars' environmental history: she is a member of the science teams for the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), the CRISM imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) rover, and the Mars 2020 rover (Perseverance). She was also an affiliate of the Dawn orbiter team during its exploration of Ceres. She is co-investigator on the upcoming EMIT mission, a space station-based imaging spectrometer to explore dust source regions, and is working to propose mission concepts for ocean worlds, Venus, and asteroids.

In the space policy arena, Bethany is presently a member of the National Academies Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science. She is also vice-chair of the Mars chair and a member of the Steering Committee for the National Academies Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey 2023-2032. She has also served on the science policy committees of presidential candidates.

Bethany 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. Previously, she was a European Union Marie Curie Fellow at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France.

Originally from Tallahassee, FL, she earned her Ph.D. and master’s in geological sciences as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Brown University, earned masters degrees from the University of Oxford in Environmental Change and Management and Geography as a Rhodes Scholar, and received her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

When not exploring the planets, Bethany can be found hiking the San Gabriels, playing tennis, surfing (or trying to), scuba diving, enjoying the amazing food and wine culture of southern California and beyond (an activity that pairs well with the more athletic pursuits), and native plant gardening.


Latest Planetary Radio Appearances

Welcoming a New Leader, and China on the Final Frontier

Bill Nye helps us welcome the Planetary Society’s new president who also leads a new Moon mission, while China’s lunar sample return spacecraft is headed home.

What’s Next for Mars Exploration?

Planetary Society board member and Caltech/JPL research scientist Bethany Ehlmann discusses how the Mars 2020 mission will search for life on the Red Planet.