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Voyager: Outward bound

  • By Alexandra Witze

    Ed Stone has spent 36 years guiding the twin Voyager spacecraft through the Solar System. Next stop, interstellar space.

    The 44 notebooks lined up neatly in Ed Stone's office span just half a metre of shelf space. But inside these journals, in meticulous black printing, Stone has chronicled the longest journey that humans have ever launched.

    Since they left Earth in 1977, the twin Voyager spacecraft have conducted pioneering explorations of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, revealing these gas giants and their moons to be far more active than scientists had expected. Now the two probes are cruising towards the edge of the Solar System — a boundary that has yet to be crossed by any emissary from Earth.

    Stone has chaperoned the Voyagers from their conception. He is the mission's first and so far only project scientist, tasked with juggling the competing needs of the scientists who use the Voyagers' instruments against those of the engineers that fly the craft. By all accounts, he has succeeded. “Somehow he got that discordant orchestra to play together,” says Andrew Ingersoll, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena who was on the team as the spacecraft flew past Jupiter and Saturn. ...more


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