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Voyager mission's project scientist retires after 50 years of service

Thank you, Ed Stone – the only person to ever hold the job

The Voyager mission's project scientist has retired after 50 years in the job.

Ed Stone signed on for the gig when the two Voyager spacecraft were still on the drawing board in 1972.

He's had the job ever since. As NASA explained, Stone rose to become director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and, as that facility manages the Voyagers, he kept the gig managing the twin probes. He later retired from JPL in 2001 but continued to serve as the Voyager mission's project scientist.

"It has been an honor and a joy to serve as the Voyager project scientist for 50 years," Stone said, in NASA's post farewelling him from the job. "The spacecraft have succeeded beyond expectation, and I have cherished the opportunity to work with so many talented and dedicated people on this mission. It has been a remarkable journey, and I'm thankful to everyone around the world who has followed Voyager and joined us on this adventure."

Voyager probe. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA builds for keeps: Voyager mission still going after 45 years


In August 2022 NASA celebrated the 45th anniversary of the twin probes' launches in 1977. Plenty of Reg readers (and writers) count themselves among the admirers of the two Voyagers, which have since become the first objects created by humanity to exit the heliosphere – the bubble of plasma surrounding Sol.

Along the way Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn, paying special attention to the latter gas giant's moon Titan. Voyager 2 also visited Neptune and Uranus. The craft remains the only Terran vessel to have visited either planet.

Voyager 1 is now nearly 22 light hours from Earth, and Voyager 2 is eighteen hours and fifteen minutes away by radio. Signals to and from the craft crawl along at 160 bits per second.

Sadly, within a few years communication with the Voyagers will become impossible because the radioisotope thermoelectric generators that provide them with power are degrading. NASA has already shut down many of the probes' instruments to extend operations for as long as possible. But some time soon–– probably in 2025 or not long afterwards – the Voyagers will go quiet.

NASA has announced that Linda Spilker will succeed Stone as Voyager's project scientist. She worked on Voyager before – during its planetary fly-bys – and served as project scientist for the Cassini mission to Saturn before returning to Voyager as deputy project scientist in 2021. ®

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