Thursday, June 13, 2024

Ed Stone - 50 Years Leading Voyager 1 & 2 - RIP

Ed Stone, who served as the project scientist for NASA's groundbreaking Voyager missions from 1972 to 2022, died on Sunday (June 9) at the age of 88

"Ed Stone was a trailblazer who dared mighty things in space. He was a dear friend to all who knew him, and a cherished mentor to me personally," Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in NASA's obituary for Stone, which the agency posted on Tuesday (June 11). 

"Ed took humanity on a planetary tour of our solar system and beyond, sending NASA where no spacecraft had gone before," Fox added. "His legacy has left a tremendous and profound impact on NASA, the scientific community, and the world. My condolences to his family and everyone who loved him. Thank you, Ed, for everything."

I've written a lot on the Voyagers over the years, and remember watching on TV when they both launched. I think of the Voyagers as probably the most significant thing humanity has ever done - certainly in the top couple of things. Yes, bigger than leaving some footprints on the moon and then giving it up to live in Low Earth Orbit. In a way, Apollo was before its time, but it was a wonderful thing to watch, too. It's just that the people fighting Apollo seemed to have the main message of, "why are you spending money on that when you could be spending it on me?" (Or spending it on us, or on our pet project?) 

The Voyagers are approaching the 50th year of their missions and as we experienced from last November until just a few weeks ago in May, they're requiring more regular attention. Honestly, it's nearly a miracle they're still usable to the extent they are as they approach year 47 in space, but both probes are still returning data. 

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.

Still, it's sobering to realize that with 47 years in space, the farther probe, Voyager 1 is currently 22 hours, 37 minutes and change away at light speed. I'll call it 22-1/2 light hours away. The nearest stars are just over four light years away. Assuming it's even going in the right direction, it'll take Voyager 1 almost 77,000 years to get to the Alpha/Proxima Centauri star system. 

That's why some sort of "warp drive" or other totally new propulsion system has to be developed to make expanding beyond the solar system remotely feasible. 

If you're inclined to read it, here's a link to NASA's obituary for Ed Stone.

Ed Stone in the foreground at a press conference for the PBS special, "The Farthest" released in 2017. Rahoul Ghose, PBS photo.


  1. The Voyagers have done what no other program has done. They've gone the furthest, the mostest.

    Must be weird, in a good way, to work on a project like this all of one's life. That's quite an accomplishment any way you look at it.

  2. We need a space-folding drive to avoid the time dilation effects, but a one-gee drive would work great.
    Pournelle was following the 'Dean drive', but I haven't seen much about that lately ( And not long ago, probably linked from here, there were two other exotic propulsion ideas.
    Things take too long. I've heard that physics is hard.

  3. Ed Stone is back at the helm. God's speed Ed.

  4. My mom saw Notre Dame Cathedral and wondered if the money should have been spent on the poor. I told her that I suspect the workers, architects and donors were happy to build something that would outlast them. The poor will always be among us.
    Let us reach for the stars.