Wisdom Lives in Words

Memorable Quotes by Alan Stern

I tend to think of Pluto and its moons as presents sitting under a Christmas tree. They're wrapped, and from Earth all we can do is look at the boxes to see whether they're light or heavy, to see if something maybe jiggles a bit inside. We're seeing intriguing things, but we really don't know what's in there.
Alan Stern
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It's interesting - Pluto's almost a brand unto itself. It's the farthest. It's the most diminutive of the classical planets. It's been maligned by astronomers. It's always the one with all the question marks in the back of the textbook in the table. I think children identify with it because it's smaller, kind of cute.
Alan Stern
That so many binary or quasi-binary KBOs exist came as a real surprise to the research community.
Alan Stern
Even in our deep ocean, there are ecosystems at work with no light whatsoever down in the deepest portions of the oceanic abyss.
Alan Stern
Human beings have long wondered whether they are alone in the universe.
Alan Stern
It shouldn't be so difficult to determine what a planet is. When you're watching a science fiction show like 'Star Trek' and they show up at some object in space and turn on the viewfinder, the audience and the people in the show know immediately whether it's a planet or a star or a comet or an asteroid.
Alan Stern
If the Pluto mission was a cat, then it would've been dead long ago because they only get nine lives, and we've had significantly more than nine stoppages and odd twists and turns.
Alan Stern
You could not have predicted the amazing discoveries at Pluto, even though we have been to a couple of objects in the solar system that were at least a little analogous to Pluto.
Alan Stern
New Horizons is a very high-tech, small, roughly 1,000-pound spacecraft with the most powerful battery of scientific instrumentation ever brought to bear on a first reconnaissance mission.
Alan Stern
No one working as an astronomer is shackled in chains. This is a tremendous profession. There are lots of neat people, and you get to do cool things. If I had to say something negative, it's that there's often a whole lot of travel that takes me away from my children. That can be a bummer a lot of times.
Alan Stern
America's space program has been the envy and inspiration of the world. It has made landmark scientific discoveries that are a lasting legacy of this nation's greatness. It has studied Earth in ways no other nation can match.
Alan Stern
We were very surprised to find out that Pluto is still geologically alive. It has upended our ideas of how planetary geophysics works.
Alan Stern
Either data supports the observations or they don't. Voting doesn't work in science.
Alan Stern
We're going to find Marses and maybe Earths out in the solar system's attic of the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt.
Alan Stern
Pluto is the new Mars.
Alan Stern
In science, we take large numbers of disparate facts and reduce them to see patterns. We use the patterns to reduce the amount of information. It's the reason we name species and genera and families in biology. It's also the reason we have names for certain types of geological features and so on in other fields.
Alan Stern
The solar system is completely wide open. Almost anywhere we go, I'm sure we would learn a lot.
Alan Stern
A miniature poodle is not not a dog just because it's miniature.
Alan Stern
The first mission to Mars did not expect to find craters and river valleys, and yet they did. The first mission to Jupiter didn't expect to find ocean worlds and volcano worlds, but they did.
Alan Stern
As a researcher, I look forward to being able to do space science in a space environment.
Alan Stern
Every mission has life-or-death moments.
Alan Stern
The basic story for Golden Spike is that we discovered a way to create do-it-yourself Apollo programs for other countries.
Alan Stern
I'm the one who originally coined the term 'dwarf planet,' back in the nineteen-nineties.
Alan Stern
Pluto has a very interesting history, and there is a lot of work that we need to do to understand this very complicated place.
Alan Stern
Most of the oceans in the Solar System are deep beneath ice shelves.
Alan Stern
As a scientist in charge of space sensors and entire space missions before I was at NASA, I myself was involved in projects that overran. But that's no excuse for remaining silent about this growing problem or failing to champion reform.
Alan Stern
Just because Pluto orbits with many other dwarf planets doesn't change what it is, just as whether an object is a mountain or not doesn't depend on whether it's in a group or in isolation.
Alan Stern
Why would you listen to an astronomer about a planet?
Alan Stern
There was a time when Pluto - which NASA's New Horizons spacecraft at last explored in 2015, a mission I led - was considered the last planet. We now know there are thousands of other - possibly inhabited - planets.
Alan Stern
The costs of badly-run NASA projects are paid for with cutbacks or delays in NASA projects that didn't go over budget. Hence the guilty are rewarded and the innocent are punished.
Alan Stern
When we first sent missions to Jupiter, no one expected to find moons that would have active volcanoes. And I could go down a long list of how often I've been surprised by the richness of nature.
Alan Stern
I think that one of the things that will come out of the New Horizons mission is that the public will take a look, and they won't know what else to call Pluto but a planet - and a pretty exciting one.
Alan Stern
If two billion people wanted to watch a robot fly by Pluto, imagine what it will be like when the first humans step on Mars. It'll be the most unifying event anybody could ever put on.
Alan Stern
I think if you were between maybe 6 and 16, there was nothing like Apollo, and I wonder if there can be something like that again. We'll just have to see.
Alan Stern
Science is really about individual experts reaching a consensus.
Alan Stern
New Horizons isn't just visiting Pluto; it's visiting this entire region. Whatever it finds, this will be a signal moment for planetary exploration - the capstone to our first reconnaissance of the planets of our solar system.
Alan Stern
Typically in science, individual scientists make up their minds about scientific fact or theory one at a time. We don't take votes. We just don't vote on quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, why the sky is blue, or anything else.
Alan Stern
I actually started my career in planetary science with a master's thesis on Pluto.
Alan Stern
Science doesn't work by voting. Did people vote on the theory of relativity? No! It's either right or it's wrong. Do we vote on whether genetics is a good theory or not? Of course not.
Alan Stern
The Kuiper belt region, which I call the third zone because it lies beyond the rocky terrestrial planets and beyond the giant planets, is a bizarre frontier.
Alan Stern
No one predicted Mercury would be a planetary core with the mantle stripped off. No one predicted volcanoes on the Jovian moons, or oceans on the inside of them. I can tell you, for every single planet, huge 'we never guessed that' things.
Alan Stern
We made more than just scientific discoveries... we rediscovered how much people love exploration.
Alan Stern
I've been on 26 space missions; they range from suborbital to orbital to shuttle experiments to planetary missions.
Alan Stern
To keep everyone invested in your vision, you have to back up a little bit and really analyze who the different stakeholders are and what they individually respond to.
Alan Stern
One of the implications of the discovery of the Kuiper Belt and its many small planets is that many scientists now think of the solar system as having not two but three zones.
Alan Stern
Pluto is as far across as Manhattan to Miami, but its atmosphere is bigger than the Earth's.
Alan Stern
I just think it's patently absurd for scientists to categorize objects on the basis of the numbers of objects that they can remember.
Alan Stern
I'm hopeful that commercial space exploration will takeoff. To really fuel the spaceflight revolution will require an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and I think that's only going to happen in the commercial sector - if there are large profits to be made.
Alan Stern
I tell public audiences, don't go to a podiatrist for brain surgery; don't go to an astronomer for planetary science.
Alan Stern
As a planetary scientist, I don't know what else to call Pluto: It's big and round and thousands of miles wide.
Alan Stern
Having a diverse suite of U.S.-manned spaceflight systems to access space is inherently robust.
Alan Stern
I can't imagine how many kids around the world will look at pictures of Pluto and think, 'I want to grow up to be a scientist.'
Alan Stern
I expect New Horizons will see more that Hubble cannot see.
Alan Stern
To say that what a planet is doesn't matter would be to imply that a planetary scientist couldn't explain to someone what the field is about.
Alan Stern
Back before the Kuiper Belt was discovered, Pluto did look like a misfit that didn't belong with either the terrestrials or the giant planets.
Alan Stern
CSF and its members believe strongly in the exploration of space of all kinds, including commercial purposes.
Alan Stern
Just speaking for myself, I think the return of people to the Moon has a lot to offer for understanding the formation and evolution of terrestrial worlds; so would the exploration of near-Earth asteroids by people.
Alan Stern
I call Pluto the harbinger.
Alan Stern
I like the planets because they are real places that you can go to and send machines to. Faraway astronomy - galactic astronomy and extra-galactic astronomy - is really cool stuff, but to me, it's about destinations.
Alan Stern
It is only by freeing NASA from routine human transport to low-Earth orbit that we can afford to once again see American astronauts exploring distant worlds.
Alan Stern
Of course Pluto is a planet: It's massive enough to have its shape controlled by gravity rather than material strength, which is the hallmark of planethood.
Alan Stern
When I started working with NASA in 1989 as part of a mission to send spacecraft to Pluto, I knew it would take at least 10-15 years to see results of my efforts.
Alan Stern
The New Horizons Pluto mission will be the first mission to a binary object and will help us understand everything from the origin of Earth's moon to the physics of mass transfer between binary stars.
Alan Stern
Pluto and its brethren are the most populous class of planets in our solar system.
Alan Stern
Pluto has strong atmospheric cycles: it snows on the surface; the snows sublimate and go back into the atmosphere each 248 year orbit.
Alan Stern
At the time of Apollo 11, I was a grade-schooler, and I remember every time an Apollo mission would take place that, like a lot of little boys, I'd gather in front of the TV for hours and hours and hours with my little brother.
Alan Stern
A river is a river, independent of whether there are other rivers nearby. In science, we call things what they are based on their attributes, not what they're next to.
Alan Stern
Are governments the only entities that can build human spacecraft? No - actually, every human spacecraft ever built for NASA was built by private industry.
Alan Stern
Competition-driven innovation and price pressure that commercial practices foster can only make human spaceflight ever more common and U.S. leadership in this domain ever clearer.
Alan Stern
My field is called planetary science.
Alan Stern
In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies... many members of the public assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration.
Alan Stern
People dig exploration.
Alan Stern
We're in the space exploration business, and the outer solar system is a wild, wooly place. We haven't explored it very well.
Alan Stern
Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we've seen in the solar system.
Alan Stern
The big lesson of planetary science is when you do a first reconnaissance of a new kind of object, you should expect the unexpected.
Alan Stern
Just because Pluto or comets aren't as big as Jupiter doesn't mean they are not scientifically important - indeed, just the reverse is often true. Sometimes, great things come in small packages.
Alan Stern
People know a planet when they see one, and I think that's a pretty darn good test, in fact, for planethood.
Alan Stern
The Pluto system is much more complex than I had expected.
Alan Stern
If you go to planetary science meetings and hear technical talks on Pluto, you will hear experts calling it a planet every day.
Alan Stern
The Kuiper Belt is the largest mapped structure in our planetary system, three times as big as all the territory from the sun out to Neptune's orbit.
Alan Stern
There are lots of really interesting little planets out there in the Kuiper Belt, but Pluto's the only one that's got all the cool attributes.
Alan Stern
Discovering that our solar system has many more planets than we ever expected, and that most of them are ice dwarfs rather than like Earth and the other rocky terrestrials, is just another step in the revolution in viewpoint that removed the Earth from the center of the physical universe and makes Earth all the more special.
Alan Stern
I think when people see Pluto revealed by New Horizons, its satellite system, its complex surface, its atmosphere, I think they'll have a hard time saying 'That's not a planet' because it obviously will be, and I think most people are already coming to that opinion anyway, but I think that's really going to drive it home viscerally.
Alan Stern
Pluto is still active four and a half billion years into its history. It was expected that small planets like Pluto would cool off long ago and not still be showing geological activity. Pluto is, in fact, showing numerous examples of geological activity on a massive scale across the planet.
Alan Stern
CASIS has to succeed because for it not to succeed would be a huge setback for the International Space Station program.
Alan Stern
Going to the Kuiper Belt is like an archaeological dig into the history of the solar system.
Alan Stern
One thing scientists do is to find order among a large number of facts, and one way to do that across fields as diverse as biology, geology, physics and astronomy is through classification.
Alan Stern
Whether there's even an ocean on Pluto deep inside is a question I hope New Horizons can address in indirect ways.
Alan Stern
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Alan Stern
If you put Earth out beyond Neptune, you wouldn't be able to call it a planet because it couldn't clear its zone.
Alan Stern
It says something very deep about humans and our society, something very good about us, that we've invested our time and treasure in building a machine that can fly across three billion miles of space to explore the Pluto system.
Alan Stern
By going to Pluto, we have a chance to anchor, with real data, models of the early evolution of Earth's atmosphere.
Alan Stern
During one of the Apollo missions, I saw Walter Cronkite showing off the flight plan. It just mesmerized me. All this detail! That's what I wanted.
Alan Stern
We really just didn't realize the diversity of planetary types in our solar system. Pluto looked like a misfit because it was the only one we saw. And just as a Chihuahua is still a dog, these ice dwarfs are still planetary bodies. They're large enough to make themselves round by self gravity, and they surely pass the test of planethood.
Alan Stern
It's very hard to motivate yourself and others with only one goal - particularly if it's complex and you might not get there until years down the road. That's why intermediate goals are so important.
Alan Stern
People ask, 'What are the scientific questions you're going to answer?' New Horizons doesn't have any of those; it's purely about raw exploration... We're not 'rewriting the textbook' - we're writing the textbook from scratch.
Alan Stern
How can an adjective in front of a noun not describe the noun? There are dwarf stars, but they're still considered stars.
Alan Stern
Liquids may have existed on the surface of Pluto in the past.
Alan Stern