Voy­ager tour guide for NASA dies

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - AROUND THE REGION - By Bernard Con­don Associated Press

New York Brad­ford Smith, a NASA as­tronomer who acted as plan­e­tary tour guide to the public with his in­ter­pre­ta­tions of stun­ning images beamed back from Voy­ager mis­sions, has died.

Smith’s wife, Diane Mcgregor, said he died Tues­day at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., of com­pli­ca­tions from myas­the­nia gravis, an au­toim­mune dis­or­der. He was 86.

Smith led the NASA team that in­ter­preted pic­tures taken by Voy­ager space probes as they passed Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Nep­tune and then pre­sented the images to the public. He was a re­tired pro­fes­sor of plan­e­tary sci­ences and as­tron­omy at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona and re­search as­tronomer at the Univer­sity of Hawaii in Manoa.

At NASA press con­fer­ences on Voy­ager discoveries fol­low­ing their launch in 1977, Smith was a star, and known for a cer­tain dry wit. At a news con­fer­ence show­ing a multi-colored, pock­marked moon of Jupiter called Io, Smith quipped, “I’ve seen bet­ter look­ing piz­zas than this.”

A video of the con­fer­ence ran on na­tional broad­cast news and his quote was on front pages around the world, said Ellen Hale, a for­mer Associated Press com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor and friend of Smith’s.

A 1981 Peo­ple mag­a­zine pro­file called Smith “the na­tion’s tour guide” who showed the public ac­tive vol­ca­noes on Io, vi­o­lent hur­ri­canes on Jupiter, thou­sands of com­plex rings around Saturn and other space odd­i­ties that con­sti­tuted “a very bizarre world,” as Smith put it, “that goes be­yond the imag­i­na­tion of science fic­tion writ­ers.”

Plan­e­tary sci­en­tist Car­olyn Porco who worked with Smith at NASA called him a “visionary” who pushed for changes in op­tics on Voy­ager cam­eras and the hir­ing of sci­en­tists with ex­per­tise in ge­ol­ogy and plan­e­tary rings.

“Brad was one of few who had the fore­sight to rec­og­nize the satel­lites and, later, the rings of the outer plan­ets would be as fas­ci­nat­ing as the plan­ets them­selves, and the need for a high-res­o­lu­tion imag­ing ca­pa­bil­ity to ad­dress both,” Porco re­called in trib­ute to Smith on Face­book.

Smith is sur­vived by Mcgregor, his wife of 34 years, three chil­dren, five grand­chil­dren and five great-grand­chil­dren.

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