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John Rummel to be Honored with the SETI Institute’s 2023 Drake Award

John Rummel to be Honored with the SETI Institute’s 2023 Drake Award

John Rummel
Image Credit: John Rummel.

August 1, 2023, Mountain View, CA – The SETI Institute is proud to announce that Dr. John Rummel will receive the prestigious 2023 Drake Award, recognizing his extraordinary and innovative programmatic contributions and unwavering advocacy for SETI and astrobiology. Rummel’s illustrious career has included roles at NASA Headquarters, where he served as Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, Planetary Protection Officer, Deputy Chief of the Mission from Planet Earth Study Office, and Program Scientist for SETI/High Resolution Microwave Survey. Despite sometimes facing significant opposition, Rummel has been an unwavering supporter of SETI science and funding, working to ensure the field’s recognition as an important scientific discipline. These and his other contributions to astrobiology, planetary protection and space policy have left a lasting impact on current and future space exploration and use by both robots and humans.

Named in honor of Dr. Frank Drake, the SETI Institute’s first president of its Board of Trustees and renowned creator of the Drake Equation, the Drake Award celebrates outstanding achievements in SETI and astrobiology. Drake, often called the father of SETI, conducted the pioneering Project Ozma, the first SETI experiment, at the Green Bank Radio Observatory in 1960. His Drake Equation serves as a roadmap for astrobiology. Drake award recipients are nominated by the SETI Institute’s Science Advisory Board and approved by its Board of Trustees. This year’s Drake Awards will be the first one since Drake passed away in 2022, leaving a profound legacy.

“This is totally unexpected – but a lot of fun! – to be honored in this way by the SETI Institute”, said Rummel. “I was lucky in that I never had to make a career choice, but instead was able to go where I thought my talents and interests might do the most good, and that has allowed me to work with some amazing people and institutions. The SETI Institute has given those people both an institutional home and a goal to understand life in the universe, and I am proud to have contributed to that in my own small way.”

“John Rummel’s career has covered so many facets of space science and exploration, both manned and unmanned. Very few scientists have had such far-reaching impact on SETI and astrobiology and the critically important, yet poorly understood field of planetary protection,” said Bill Diamond, CEO of the SETI Institute. “We are delighted to have this opportunity to honor John’s extraordinary work and his lifelong commitment to the study of life in the Universe.”

Since being established in 2001, exceptional individuals, including Frank Drake, have received the Drake Award:

  • Frank Drake, for innovation in SETI and life in the Universe research
  • Charles Townes, for visionary advocacy for optical SETI
  • William Borucki, for revolutionary contributions to exoplanet research as PI for the Kepler Space Telescope
  • Victoria Meadows, for seminal contributions to astrobiology and exoplanet research
  • Jason Wright, for groundbreaking achievements in exoplanet and SETI research
  • Paul Horowitz, for pioneering work in SETI Instrumentation for both radio and optical SETI searches
  • Dan Werthimer, for developing novel radio spectrometers as well as optical SETI detection systems
  • Shelley Wright, for her innovative development and use of new instruments for optical SETI

The 2023 Drake Awards presentation will take place on September 14, 2023, at a public event held at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA. The SETI Institute will live stream the presentation via Zoom for those unable to attend in person. Dr. Moiya McTier, astrophysicist, folklorist and author, will host the 2023 Drake Award event. Alongside the Drake Award, additional honorees will receive the SETI Forward Award, aimed at inspiring future scientists to pursue careers in the search for life in the universe, and the Carl Sagan Director’s Award, recognizing outstanding achievements in astrobiology, technology and exploration of life in the universe.

For more information about the 2023 Drake Awards, please visit our website here:

Tickets can be purchased here:

John Rummel’s Bio:
Prior to his recent focus on business with Friday Harbor Partners, John Rummel was a visiting scholar at McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law (Montréal) and a Senior Scientist with the SETI Institute. Earlier, he was the founding Director of the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy and retired as Professor of Biology at East Carolina University (Greenville, NC). This year he stepped down as the representative of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) to the International Science Council’s Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) where he was also the former (and founding) Chair of COSPAR’s Panel on Planetary Protection, and led the development of COSPAR’s unified policy and its current approach to addressing planetary protection concerns. More recently, Rummel represented COSPAR on The Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group, which developed approaches to establishing a legal regime that would promote the orderly and productive use of in-space resources.

A former member of the NASA Advisory Council’s Planetary Protection Subcommittee, Rummel previously worked at NASA Headquarters (1986 to 1993 and 1998 to 2008) as NASA’s Senior Scientist for Astrobiology and as NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer (PPO). Between NASA assignments, he was the Director of Research Administration and Education at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. After his postdoctoral work at NASA Ames Research Center, Rummel first served NASA as Exobiology Program Manager and Research Programs Branch Chief in the Life Sciences Division, arriving in 1986. He was responsible for the Life Support and Exobiology Implementation Teams under the US-USSR Joint Working Group in Space Biology and Medicine, and also developed an Antarctic Space Analog Program as a joint activity with several NASA Centers and the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs. A holder of eight NASA Group Achievement Awards, Rummel is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1990) “for leadership in fostering NASA-sponsored life science research,” the recipient of the Life Sciences Award from the International Academy of Astronautics (2005) “for significant and lasting contributions to the advancement of the astronautical sciences,” and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Performance Award (2008) “for outstanding management of space science programs...

Rummel received his PhD in community ecology and evolution from Stanford University and his undergraduate degree in environmental biology from the University of Colorado.

About the SETI Institute
Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the universe and share that knowledge with the world. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages data analytics, machine learning, and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia, and government agencies, including NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
SETI Institute



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