Ed Stone, Caltech's David Morrisroe Professor of Physics, has won the aerospace equivalent of an Oscar. On Wednesday, July 16, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) presented him its sixth Lifetime Achievement Award for his "sustained and extraordinary contributions to America's space programs, including innovative planetary missions."
From 1991 to 2001, Stone was the director of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, America's lead center for the robotic exploration of the solar system. (The Lab was transferred to NASA at the space agency's birth in 1958.) Among the firsts during Stone's 10-year tenure, JPL launched a successful mission to explore Saturn, its rings, and its moons; dispatched a spacecraft to visit a comet and return samples of its dust cloud to Earth; and went off-roading on Mars. The toaster-oven-sized Sojourner rover covered 100 yards in 80 days, and its six-wheeled body plan has been the standard for all Mars rovers since.
Stone is also the project scientist for JPL's Voyagers, a role he assumed during the mission's detailed design phase in 1972—five years before the twin spacecraft were launched. The two ships parted ways after setting similar courses for Jupiter and Saturn and giving us the first good look at those gas giants and their unexpectedly exotic moons. Voyager 2 continued on the Grand Tour of the outer solar system, visiting Uranus and Neptune, while Voyager 1 steered up and out of the plane of the solar system. In 2012, nearly 35 years to the day after its launch, Voyager 1 sailed beyond the reach of the solar wind and became the first man-made object to enter the interstellar void. "It's a special honor to receive this award and a privilege to have been part of Voyager's exploration of the solar system, a 37-year journey of discovery that now extends into the space between the stars," Stone says.
The AAS's Lifetime Achievement Award is presented in Washington, D.C., on every tenth anniversary of the society's founding. The first award, in 1964, went to Wernher von Braun, who created the Saturn V rocket that would take the Apollo astronauts on the moon. The second award went to JPL director William H. Pickering (BS '32, MS '33, PhD '36), who in 1958 put America's first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit atop another of von Braun's rockets.
Written by Douglas Smith