Jonathan Eberhart (1942–2003)

Scientist as journalist

Longtime readers will mourn the death last week of Jonathan Eberhart, following a long illness. A legend among science writers, he covered the birth and adolescence of space flight and exploration for Science News from 1960 to 1991. He was also a renowned folk-music writer and performer.

S. Paton, Folk-Legacy Records

For 3 decades within our pages, Jonathan Eberhart chronicled space science and exploration, winning kudos along the way. But hobbled by multiple sclerosis, he retired from journalism early–in 1991. On Feb. 18, at 60, he died from complications of the disease.

A burly, pony-tailed Harvard dropout, Jonathan first worked as a disc jockey for college radio stations and a record-store clerk, all the while writing protest songs. But, captivated by the nascent science of space, he pleaded to cover it for Science News. He started with summer stints, joining the staff full time in 1964. He left twice for several-month singing gigs–in 1969, as part of the initial crew of performers on the sloop Clearwater with Pete Seeger and several developing folk legends, and in 1970, at the World’s Fair in Japan.

Despite his unconventional career path, Jonathan developed into an intense and scholarly professional. “Beneath [Jonathan’s] hippielike and seemingly carefree exterior lay a deeply inquiring mind and laserlike intellect,” recalls planetary scientist James W. Head III of Brown University in Providence, R.I.

“Jonathan was fundamentally a very bright scientist,” says David Morrison of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “He thought deeply about the issues, asked penetrating questions, and, when appropriate, offered his own hypotheses. Discussing [space] missions with Jonathan resembled talking with another team scientist.” In the end, says Morrison, Jonathan “became part of the process of discovery in NASA’s golden age.”

Charles W. Petit of US News and World Report recalls, “When he spoke up at press conferences, we all listened carefully, as his questions often had more meaning than the answers he got. Then, we’d all wait to see what he wrote but we missed.”

Jonathan applied the same intense focus to the research that went into his music. A folklorist, folk song writer, and performer, he recorded one solo and two group albums. Among his creations are some of the only odes to space–especially to the planet Mars.

Adds space scientist Carolyn Porco of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., “Jonathan romanced us and put our business to song. What a gift.”

Tributes and some of Jonathan Eberhart’s songs are available at

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