Bradford Smith


Bradford A. Smith, 86, passed away peacefully at his home in Santa Fe, NM on July 3, 2018. He is survived by his wife, Diane McGregor, his three children, Kari Rasmason of Albuquerque, NM, Hillary Tolmen of Cape Coral, FL, and Randall Smith of Albuquerque, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Brad was born in 1931 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and grew up in Winchester, MA where he attended Winchester High School. He graduated from Northeastern University with a BSc degree in Chemical Engineering in 1954, and a PhD in Astronomy from New Mexico State University in 1972. He spent two years in the military as an astronomer with the US Army Map Service working at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where he began a long and productive association with Clyde Tombaugh, who had been at White Sands since 1946 developing missile tracking systems to determine flight paths and rocket characteristics.   Together Smith and Tombaugh carried out a search for possible natural satellites of the Moon at Lowell Observatory during the lunar eclipse of November 17-18, 1956 (none was found) and soon afterwards Smith followed Tombaugh to New Mexico State University, where he served as Associate Professor of Astronomy.  At NMSU he established a program of systematic planetary photography in 1958, thus inaugurating a program of high-resolution ground based observations of the planets in support of Mariner, Viking, and Voyager missions that NASA would fund for the next 30 years.  In 1974, Smith was recruited to the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona and enjoyed joint appointments as a Professor in Planetary Sciences and Astronomy at the University of Arizona, as Research Astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and as a Visiting Associate in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology. In early 1976 Smith and his co-workers were the first to use a CCD detector on an astronomical telescope, yielding the first high-resolution infrared images of Uranus and Neptune. Turning increasingly to space research, Smith participated in a number of US and international space missions, including Mars Mariners 6 and 7, the Mars Viking mission, the Soviet Vega mission to Halley’s Comet, the Soviet Phobos mission to Mars, and the Wide Field/Planetary Camera team for the Hubble Space Telescope. He was the deputy team leader of the imaging team on the Mariner 9 Mars Orbiter, and was chosen by NASA to lead the camera team on the Voyager missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Later, Smith’s interests turned to other planetary systems. He co-discovered a circumstellar disk around the nearby star, ß Pictoris, the first direct evidence of a planetary system beyond our own, and continued these studies as a member of the infrared camera (NICMOS) experiment on the Hubble Space Telescope. Smith has four times been awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. Asteroid 8553 (bradsmith) is named for him. Smith has served as the president of IAU Commission 16 for the physical studies of planets and satellites and as a member of the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. He has been a co-author on four editions of 21st Century Astronomy, published by W.W. Norton and two editions of Understanding our Universe, also published by Norton. He also co-authored with Stephen E. Strom the book Earth & Mars: A Reflection, published by the University of Arizona Press. He has published popular articles in National Geographic Magazine and Sky and Telescope. Most recently, he was one of the team members featured in a full-length film, The Farthest, which chronicled the Voyager mission, calling it "one of the greatest feats of exploration our species has ever undertaken."

Obituary courtesy of Diane McGregor with thanks to Bill Sheehan