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Frank Drake

American astronomer and astrophysicist

Frank Drake
Drake speaking at Cornell University in 2017
Frank Donald Drake

(1930-05-28)May 28, 1930
DiedSeptember 2, 2022(2022-09-02) (aged 92)
Alma mater
Known for
  • Elizabeth Procter Bell
    (m. 1952; div. 1976)
  • Amahl Shakhashiri
    (m. 1978)
Children5, including Nadia Drake
Scientific career
FieldsAstronomy, astrophysics
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Santa Cruz, SETI
Doctoral advisorCecilia Payne-Gaposchkin[1]

Frank Donald Drake (May 28, 1930 – September 2, 2022) was an American astronomer and astrophysicist. He was involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including the founding of SETI,[2][3][4][5] mounting the first observational attempts at detecting extraterrestrial communications in 1960 in Project Ozma, developing the Drake equation, and as the creator of the Arecibo Message, a digital encoding of an astronomical and biological description of the Earth and its lifeforms for transmission into the cosmos.

Early life and education

Born on May 28, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, as a youth Drake loved electronics and chemistry. He reports that he considered the possibility of life existing on other planets as an eight-year-old, but never discussed the idea with his family or teachers due to the prevalent religious ideology.

He enrolled at Cornell University on a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. Once there he began studying astronomy. His ideas about the possibility of extraterrestrial life were reinforced by a lecture from astrophysicist Otto Struve in 1951. After college, he served briefly as an electronics officer on the heavy cruiser USS Albany. He then went on to graduate school at Harvard to study radio astronomy.

Drake's hobbies included lapidary and the cultivation of orchids.[6]


Although explicitly linked with modern views on the likelihood and detectability of extraterrestrial civilizations, Drake started his career undertaking radio astronomical research at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia, and later at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He conducted key measurements that revealed the presence of a Jovian ionosphere and magnetosphere.

In the 1960s, Drake spearheaded the conversion of the Arecibo Observatory to a radio astronomical facility, later updated in 1974 and 1996. As a researcher, Drake was involved in the early work on pulsars. In this period, Drake was a professor at Cornell University and director of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) – the formal name for the Arecibo facility. In 1974 he wrote the Arecibo message.[7]

He is one of the pioneers of the modern field of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence with Giuseppe Cocconi, Philip Morrison, Iosif Shklovsky, and Carl Sagan.

Drake co-designed the Pioneer plaque with Carl Sagan in 1972. It became the first physical message sent into space. The plaque was designed to be understandable by extraterrestrials should they encounter it. He later supervised the creation of the Voyager Golden Record. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974.

Drake was a member of the National Academy of Sciences where he chaired the board of physics and astronomy of the National Research Council (1989–1992). He also served as president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was a professor of astronomy at Cornell University (1964–1984) and served as the director of the Arecibo Observatory. As of 2010, he was involved in "The Carl Sagan Center for the Study of life in the Universe" at the SETI Institute.[8]

He was emeritus professor of astronomy and astrophysics[9] at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he also served as dean of Natural Sciences (1984–1988). He served on the board of trustees of the SETI Institute.[10]


Drake died on September 2, 2022, at his home in Aptos, California, from natural causes at the age of 92.[11]


Drake Planetarium at Norwood High School in Norwood, Ohio, is named for Drake and linked to NASA.

See also


  1. ^ "Personal Portrait: CECILIA PAYNE". Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  2. ^ Stone RP, Wright SA, Drake F, Muñoz M, Treffers R, Werthimer D (October 2005). "Lick Observatory Optical SETI: targeted search and new directions". Astrobiology. 5 (5): 604–11. Bibcode:2005AsBio...5..604S. doi:10.1089/ast.2005.5.604. PMID 16225433.
  3. ^ Drake F (1999). "Space missions for SETI". Acta Astronautica. 44 (2–4): 113–115. Bibcode:1999AcAau..44..113D. doi:10.1016/S0094-5765(99)00036-3. PMID 11542286.
  4. ^ Drake F (April 1993). "Extraterrestrial Intelligence". Science. 260 (5107): 474–475. Bibcode:1993Sci...260..474D. doi:10.1126/science.260.5107.474. PMID 17830410.
  5. ^ Sagan, Carl; Sagan, Linda Salzman; Drake, Frank (February 1972). "A Message from Earth". Science. 175 (4024): 881–884. Bibcode:1972Sci...175..881S. doi:10.1126/science.175.4024.881. PMID 17781060.
  6. ^ Billings, Lee (October 3, 2013). Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars (1st ed.). New York: Current, a member of Penguin Group. ISBN 9781617230066.
  7. ^ David, Leonard (Summer 1980). "Putting Our Best Signal Forward". Cosmic Search. 2 (3): 2–7. Bibcode:1980CosSe...2....2D.
  8. ^ "SETI Institute Names New Chief Alien Life Hunter". Space.com. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  9. ^ University of California | Lick observatory www.ucolick.org retrieved 18:29 23 October 2011
  10. ^ https://www.seti.org/frank-drake
  11. ^ Timmer, John (September 2, 2022). "Frank Drake, astronomer famed for contributions to SETI, has died". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 2, 2022.

External links