The man who has served as project scientist for NASA’s Voyager missions since five years before the first of the two spacecraft left Earth has been awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in astronomy.
Former Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Edward Stone, now a physics professor at Caltech, has been given the Shaw Prize in Astronomy, an honour that carries a $1.3 million reward.
Stone has headed the science team for the two Voyager probes for 47 years – starting in 1972. Voyager 2, the first of the craft to launch, took off in 1977.
The probes have since made many very important discoveries, such as the existence of volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon, Io, and the gaps and complex structures in Saturn’s rings.
Voyager 1 and 2 are now both beyond the limits of the sun’s influence and have become the first two human-made objects to reach interstellar space.
The Shaw Prize was created in 2002 by Hong King philanthropist Run Run Shaw. It is awarded in three categories – astronomy, life science and medicine – every year.
Stone has been awarded, according to his citation, “for his leadership in the Voyager project, which has, over the past four decades, transformed our understanding of the four giant planets and the outer solar system, and has now begun to explore interstellar space”.
Stone himself says he is deeply moved.
“This is a tremendous honour,” he says, “and a tribute to the teams who designed, developed, launched and operated Voyager on an inspiring journey of more than four decades.”