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Space Exploration Icon: Former JPL Director and Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone Dies

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Space Exploration Icon Former JPL Director and Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone Dies

Over a period of sixty years, Stone devoted himself to space exploration. After enrolling at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1964, he oversaw the Voyager project for an unparalleled half-century and held other esteemed roles, such as the David Morrisroe Professor of Physics and JPL director from 1991 to 2001.

Dr. Edward C. Stone was a visionary leader who significantly influenced our view of the universe. The scientific community is saddened by his passing. On June 9, 2024, Stone, the 88-year-old former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and longstanding project scientist for NASA’s ground-breaking Voyager mission, passed away.

Stone’s leadership and foresight are demonstrated by the 1977 launch of the Voyager mission. The twin Voyager spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, have considerably outperformed their original purpose, which was to study the furthest regions of our solar system. They took the first-ever close-up pictures of the distinctive features of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, including Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and Saturn’s complex rings, which completely changed our understanding of these planets. Along with these remarkable findings, the probes also revealed enormous, ice oceans beneath the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io.

The Voyager mission’s continuous trek into interstellar space is arguably its most impressive accomplishment. The first artificial object to reach this unexplored region was Voyager 1, which did so in 2012; Voyager 2 followed in 2018. As the probes move farther away from the Sun, they nevertheless send back important scientific information that sheds light on conditions outside of our solar system.

Stone’s impact was felt long after the Voyager mission was over. He led an era of extraordinary scientific investigation while serving as director of JPL, overseeing the 1997 launch of Sojourner, the first wheeled rover, to the Red Planet as part of the Mars Pathfinder project. Additionally, he was a major contributor to the creation of the W. M. Keck Observatory, one of the most potent telescopes in the world.

Apart from his scientific accomplishments, Stone was renowned for his fervent guidance and his unrelenting dedication to educating the public. His extraordinary talent was in his ability to communicate difficult scientific ideas in a way that the general people could understand, inspiring awe and enthusiasm for space travel. Years of scientists and scientific enthusiasts were inspired by him as a frequent speaker.

Reactions to Stone’s enormous contributions have been flowing in from all corners of science. As with the space missions he led, Ed Stone was “a man in constant motion, chasing the unknown,” according to Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum. Current JPL director Laurie Leshin reiterated this opinion, referring to Stone as “an energetic leader and scientist who expanded our knowledge about the universe.”

The groundbreaking findings of the Voyager mission and the innumerable people he encouraged to pursue careers in science and adventure are only two ways that Ed Stone’s legacy will endure. His impressive track record of accomplishments is evidence of a life committed to expanding human knowledge and comprehension.