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John D. Anderson (1934–2022)

Anderson was a principal investigator on NASA’s Mariners 5-7, Pioneers 5-11, Galileo, and Stardust missions, as well as a major participant in many other planetary missions.

Published onAug 30, 2022
John D. Anderson (1934–2022)

Photo courtesy of Misch Anderson.

Dr. John David Anderson passed away on Friday, June 24, 2022. He died of natural causes, living a long and happy life to age 88.

Young John David was inspired to become an astronomer by an astronomy book his grandmother gave him. Math came easily to him, and he pursued degrees in astronomy at UCLA, earning his Ph.D. in 1967.

Anderson joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1960 and went on to become Senior Research Scientist. He was on the Radio Science Team for many of JPL’s most exciting and productive uncrewed spacecraft missions of the era, including Mariners 9 and 10, Voyagers 1 and 2, Cassini, and Rosetta. He led as Principal Investigator on Mariners 5–7, Pioneers 5–11, Galileo, and Stardust, continuing his work as Co-Investigator on Juno undeterred by his official retirement from JPL in 2006.

Up to his final weeks, he continued on his own to analyze archived mission data and perform orbital determinations, “Just for fun!” he would say.

For his foundational contributions to spacecraft navigation and gravity science, Anderson was awarded a NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1974 for his work on Pioneer 10, and in 1999 he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

Anderson published more than 100 articles in many professional journals, including Nature, Science, Physical Review Letters, Physics Today, Icarus, EOS, Astrophysical Journal, Journal of Geophysical Research, Celestial Mechanics, among others. In the popular press, he was interviewed for his work on the search for Planet X and the Pioneer Anomaly, and contributed to Astronomy magazine and the Planetary Society’s publications.

He held occasional Visiting Lecturer and Researcher teaching posts at UCLA and Stanford, though his favorites were his four summers at Monash University in Australia. In addition, he mentored, supported, and collaborated with many young scientists and post-doctoral students who went on to successful research careers.

John was a lifelong model train and classical music enthusiast. He was preceded to the hereafter by his first wife, Betty, mother of his eldest three children, and by his second wife, Yuriko, whom people sometimes mistakenly called “Europa” — the Jovian moon — at Voyager and Galileo mission meetings. John is survived by his four children and seven grandchildren.

All who knew him will remember him for his gentle, unassuming demeanor, his professional generosity, and his straightforward approach to intellectual collaboration in pursuit of knowledge in the fields of gravitation and celestial mechanics.

He will also be remembered for his low-key, amiable wit: once, at a meeting, a fellow attendee introduced himself as Tim Timmerman. Without missing a beat, Anderson replied, “I’m John Johnson — nice to meet you!” He later laughed and explained to his very surprised wife that he thought Tim was making a little joke, so he merely obliged by playing along.

John joined the mysteries of the cosmos at peace and surrounded by his family, who noted that his onward journey coincided with a rare alignment of seven planets plus the waning Moon.

See also Anderson’s AstroGen information.


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