Frank Drake, the celebrated radio astronomer and SETI pioneer, has died. He was 92.
Frank spent his life seeking out evidence of extraterrestrial transmissions. In 1960, he carried out the first SETI experiment to scan for radio signals of intelligent origin. He named the effort Project Ozma, after Princess Ozma of Oz who lives in a place "very far away, difficult to reach, and populated by strange and exotic beings." The following year, he devised a powerful provocation, the Drake Equation, to estimate the number of worlds likely to harbor extraterrestrial civilization. In 1972, Frank collaborated with Carl Sagan on the Pioneer Plaque, a "greeting card" from Earth attached to our first interstellar probes, Pioneer 10 and 11. Then two years later, as director of the famed Arecibo Observatory, he transmitted an encoded radio message about humanity for any extraterrestrials who may be listening. Frank's ongoing accomplishments and contributions to astronomy and astrophysics are monumental and continue to shape the scientific study of the universe and our place in it.
I first met Frank when I interviewed him for Wired in the early 1990s and he thrilled me with his brilliance and vision while also exhibiting endless patience with an aspiring young science journalist. Many years later, I contacted Frank when Tim Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I began our journey to release the first terrestrial edition of the Voyager Golden Record. Frank had not only been the technical director of the iconic 1977 message for extraterrestrials but it was his ingenious idea that this gift to the cosmos be in the form of a metal phonograph record that, attached to the twin Voyager space probes, could survive billions of years traveling among the stars.
As we spent two years producing the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, Frank and his lovely wife Amahl, who also worked on the Voyager Record, were infinitely generous with their time, wisdom, and warmth. Their unending encouragement was our rocket fuel. (We named our new record label Ozma Records in homage to Frank.) Frank's kindness and support during the course of that epic project meant the world(s) to me. I'll miss him.
Frank Drake didn't just study the stars—he was one.
My deepest sympathy to Amahl, Nadia, Leila, and the entire Drake family.
Words from Frank's family: "Frank Donald Drake: May 28, 1930—September 2, 2022"