Frank Drake

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For the comic book character, see Frank Drake (comics)
Professor Frank Drake

Frank Drake (born May 28 1930, Chicago, Illinois) is an American astronomer and astrophysicist. He is most famous for founding SETI and creating the Drake equation.

Early life and education

As a youth in Chicago, Drake loved electronics and chemistry. He reports that he considered the possiblity of life existing on other planets as a youth, but never discussed the idea with his family or teachers due to the prevelent religious ideology.

He enrolled at Cornell on an ROTC electronics scholarship. Once there he began studying astronomy. His ideas about the possilbity of extra terrestrial life were reinforced by a lecture from astrophysist Otto Struve in 1951. After college, he served briefly as an electronics officer on the USS Albany. He then went on to Graduate school at Harvard in radio astronomy.


In 1960 Drake conducted the first radio search for extra terrestiral intelligence, known as Project Ozma.

In 1961, along with J. Peter Pearman, an officer on the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences, he organized the first SETI conference held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia. At this small gathering of a dozen scientists he proposed his famous Drake equation, which he devised in an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact, by combining estimates of the various factors involved.

Drake designed the Pioneer plaque with Carl Sagan in 1972, the first physical message sent into space. The plaque was designed to be understandible by an extrateressital should they encounter it. He later created content for the Voyager Golden Record.

Recent activities and academics

Drake is a member of the National Academy of Sciences where he chaired the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council (1989-92). He also served as President of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University (1964-84) and served as the Director of the Arecibo Observatory. He is currently involved in Project Phoenix (SETI)

He is Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he also served as Dean of Natural Sciences (1984-88).


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