Ed Stone, who led NASA’s iconic Voyager project for 50 years, dies at 88

Humanity has lost an interstellar pioneer.

Ed Stone, who was the project scientist for NASA’s pioneering Voyager mission from 1972 to 2022, died on Sunday (June 9) at the age of 88.

“Ed Stone was an awe-inspiring explorer of powerful things in space. He was a great friend to everyone who knew him, and a great mentor to me personally,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Directorate. Science Mission at NASA Headquarters in Washington. in NASA’s obituary for Stone, the agency posted on Tuesday (June 11).

“Ed took humanity on a planetary journey around our solar system and beyond, sending NASA where no spacecraft had gone before,” Fox said. “His legacy left an enormous and profound impact on NASA, the scientific community, and the world. My condolences to his family and to all who loved him. Thank you, Ed, for everything.”

Related: Interstellar: Questions and Answers with Voyager project scientist Ed Stone

Voyager launched a pair of probes on a “grand tour” of the solar system’s giant planets in 1977. The two spacecraft made many discoveries in our cosmic backyard – finding intense volcanism on Jupiter’s moon Io and 10 new moons of Uranus, for example – and then kept on fly, into exciting and unexplored realms.

In 2012, Voyager 1 broke free from the heliosphere, the giant bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields that surrounds the sun, becoming the first man-made object ever to reach interstellar space. Game Voyager 2, who took a different path and is moving a little slower than his partner, after a suit in late 2018.

Both Voyagers remain operational today, studying the alien environment between our star and the next. Voyager 1 is currently more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from home, and its twin is about 13 billion miles (21 billion km) into the void. That’s about 162 and 136 Earth-Sun distances (or astronomical units), respectively.

“It has been an honor and a great pleasure to be the Voyager project scientist for 50 years,” Stone said in a NASA statement in October 2022, when he announced he was stepping down from the role.

“The spacecraft was a great success, and I appreciated the opportunity to work with so many talented and dedicated people on this mission,” he added. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m grateful to everyone around the world who followed Voyager and joined us on this adventure.”

Related: Voyager: 15 incredible images of our solar system (gallery)

Stone was born on January 23, 1936, in Knoxville, Iowa, according to the NASA commentary. His father was a construction superintendent who loved showing his son how to take things apart and put them back together – and young Ed was a keen student.

“I’ve always been interested in finding out why something is this way and not that way,” Stone said in an interview in 2018, according to a NASA commentary. “I wanted to understand and measure and respect.”

He studied physics in junior college, then went to the University of Chicago for graduate school, where he helped build scientific instruments for spacecraft – a field still very young at this point.

“The first one he designed carried aboard Discoverer 36, a since-declassified spy satellite that launched in 1961 and took photographs of Earth from space as part of the Corona program,” NASA wrote in the memo. “Stone’s instrument, which measured energetic particles from the sun, helped scientists figure out why solar radiation fogged the film and ultimately improved their understanding of the Van Allen belts, energetic particles trapped in a magnetic field The world.”

Stone became a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1964 and soon began working on NASA missions. Over the years, he served as principal investigator or science instrument leader on nine different agency missions and co-investigator on five others, according to the agency.

Stone also served as director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California – the agency’s main center for robotic planetary exploration – from 1991 to 2001. That stretch saw some major milestones, including the landing of the first ever Mars rover of NASA, Sojourner. , in 1996 with the Pathfinder mission and the launch of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn (a joint effort with the European Space Agency) in 1997.

“Ed will be remembered as a dynamic leader and scientist who expanded our knowledge of the universe – from the sun to the planets to the distant stars – and who inspired our collective imagination about the mysteries and wonders of deep space,” Director JPL, Laurie Leshin, said. also Caltech’s vice president, said in NASA’s obituary.

“Ed’s discoveries have inspired exploration of the unprecedented corners of our solar system and will inspire future generations to reach new frontiers,” said Leshin. “He will be greatly missed and always remembered by the NASA, JPL and Caltech communities and beyond.”


— Voyager: 15 incredible images of our solar system captured by the twin probes

— Ed Stone, NASA’s Voyager project scientist, retires after 50 years

— Voyager’s 45th birthday: What the iconic mission taught us and what’s to come

Stone’s colleagues have repeatedly noted his commitment to science education and communication, his sincere desire to help tell the world about scientific findings in an accurate and engaging way.

I can attest to this commitment, as I have personally seen it many times. Despite being a very busy man, Stone was open and available to the media; he took our phone calls and stayed on after press conferences to answer more and more of our questions.

And he was nice, polite and patient in all these interactions. I didn’t know Ed Stone very well, but I could tell he was a good guy. And I, like countless others, will miss it.

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