Bradford A. Smith, 1931–2018


Bradford A. Smith, a pioneer in the exploration of the solar system, passed away on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. During his career, Smith participated in a number of U.S. 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. He co-discovered a circumstellar disk around the nearby star, Beta 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 spent two years in the military as an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service working at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where he began a long and productive association with Clyde Tombaugh. 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 afterward 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, and initiated a program of high-resolution, groundbased 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 with joint appointments as Professor in Planetary Sciences and Astronomy at the University of Arizona, as Research Astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the 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.

Smith was awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement four times, and asteroid 8553 (bradsmith) is named for him. Smith 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 was a co-author on four editions of 21st Century Astronomy and two editions of Understanding our Universe. He also co-authored with Stephen E. Strom the book Earth & Mars:  A Reflection, published by the University of Arizona Press. He 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.”