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Author Topic:   U.S. Space Pioneer James A. Van Allen Dies
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 08-09-2006 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
University of Iowa News Release
U.S. Space Pioneer, UI Professor James A. Van Allen Dies

Dr. James A. Van Allen, U.S. space pioneer and Regent Distinguished Professor of Physics in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, died this morning, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 at the age of 91. Arrangements are pending.

Though he retired from active teaching in 1985, he continued to monitor data from Pioneer 10 throughout the spacecraft's 1972-2003 operational lifetime and serve as an interdisciplinary scientist for the Galileo spacecraft, which reached Jupiter on Dec. 7, 1995.

The highlight of Van Allen's long and distinguished career was his use of UI-built instruments carried aboard the first successful U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958 to discover bands of intense radiation -- later known as the Van Allen radiation belts -- surrounding the Earth. It came at the height of the U.S.-Soviet space race and literally put the United States on the map in the field of space exploration.

Among the other accomplishments of which he was most proud was his 1973 first-ever survey of the radiation belts of Jupiter using the Pioneer 10 spacecraft and his 1979 discovery and survey of Saturn's radiation belts using data from the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. Ever a critic of manned space flight, Van Allen the scientist described himself as "a member of the loyal opposition" when it came to discussions of big-budget space programs, declaring that space science could be done better and more cheaply when left to remote-controlled, unmanned spacecraft. NASA's move toward cheaper, more focused unmanned spacecraft during the 1990s was, at least in part, a result of Van Allen's advocacy.

“Jim Van Allen was my friend and role model,” said UI Interim President Gary Fethke. “He represented the very image of a superb faculty member. His teaching prowess was legendary, his research was defining, and his collegiality and service were unmatched. I will always be grateful for his kindness to my family and to me, and I will always be inspired and motivated by his complete dedication to the University of Iowa. I will miss him greatly. On behalf of the entire University community, I extend our sympathies to the Van Allen family.”

UI Provost Michael Hogan said, "James Van Allen was one of the university’s most influential and best-regarded scholars of all time. Yet he remained the most unassuming and caring man. We will all miss him deeply."

Tom Boggess, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said his entire department was saddened by the news of Van Allen’s death.

“We offer our deepest sympathies to his family,” Boggess said. “For decades, Dr. Van Allen has been an inspiration and a role model to our faculty, staff, and students. His dedication to science and discovery, as well as to teaching and public service were unmatched. In so many ways, Dr. Van Allen defined our department. He will be sorely missed.”

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack also remembered Van Allen’s contributions as a scientist and as a human being.

“Jim Van Allen was a good friend of our family,” Vilsack said. “His loss saddens Christie and me. His passing is a sad day for science in America and the world. He was a great teacher and mentor. His love for the University was as limitless as the universe he explored with such passion and energy. He will be missed.”

Born in Mount Pleasant on Sept. 7, 1914, Van Allen was valedictorian of his high school class in 1931, and received his bachelor's degree in physics, summa cum laude, from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1935. While an undergraduate at Iowa Wesleyan, he assisted the senior scientist of the second Byrd Expedition (1934-35) to Antarctica in preparing seismic and magnetic experimental equipment. (In 2004, the American Polar Society commemorated his work by presenting Van Allen with its Honors of the Society award.) He earned his master's and doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1936 and 1939, respectively.

From 1940 through 1942, he helped develop radio proximity fuzes -- detonators to increase the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire -- for the defense of ships. Sponsored by the National Defense Research Council, his work was conducted at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University. In November 1942, he was commissioned as a naval officer, and he served 16 months on various ships in the South Pacific Fleet as assistant staff gunnery officer.

In 1946, Van Allen returned to the Applied Physics Laboratory where he organized and directed a team to conduct high-altitude experimental work using V2 and Aerobee rockets, and, in 1951, he accepted a Guggenheim research fellowship at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Later in 1951, Van Allen became professor and head of the University of Iowa Department of Physics and Astronomy, a position he held until he retired from teaching in 1985. During the 1950s, he and his graduate students used the UI football practice field to launch rockets and "rockoons" -- rockets carried aloft by balloons -- to conduct cosmic ray experiments above the atmosphere. A highlight of that work was the 1953 discovery of electrons believed to be the driving force behind the aurora. In 1956, he proposed the use of U.S. satellites for cosmic-ray investigations and through "preparedness and good fortune," he later wrote, the experiment was selected as the principal payload for the first flight of a four-stage Jupiter C rocket.

Van Allen played an important role in planning the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year (IGY) and carried out shipboard expeditions to Greenland and southward to the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica in 1957. IGY culminated in the Jan. 31, 1958 launch of Explorer 1 and its scientific payload. Van Allen's instruments included a Geiger counter, which provided information that regions of intense radiation surround the Earth. The discovery marked the birth of the research field of magnetospheric physics, an enterprise that grew to involve more than 1,000 investigators in more than 20 countries.

In 1974 People Magazine listed Van Allen as one of the top 10 teaching college professors in the country. His former graduate students list among their accomplishments experiments on NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo and Cassini spacecraft.

Van Allen joined the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 1948 and served as the organization's president from 1982 until 1984. He has received the AGU's highest honors, including the John A. Fleming Award in 1963 for eminence in geophysics and the William Bowie Medal in 1977 for outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.

In 1994, Van Allen received the 1994 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize from the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society "in recognition of his many contributions to the field of planetary science, both through his investigations of planetary magnetospheres and through his advocacy of planetary exploration." Also in 1994, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by NASA on the occasion of his 80th birthday and the American Geophysical Union's 75th anniversary.

Van Allen's many other awards and honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences since 1959 and the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for scientific achievement, presented in 1987 by President Reagan in ceremonies at the White House. In 1989, he received the Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and presented by the King of Sweden. The Crafoord Prize is the highest award the Academy can bestow for research in a number of scientific fields and, for space exploration, is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Perhaps his proudest achievement as an educator was leaving his mark on 34 doctoral students, 47 master's degree students and, especially, the numerous undergraduates who enjoyed his classes. In a February 2004 interview he said, "I taught 'General Astronomy' for 17 years, and it was my favorite course. I spent one or two hours preparing for each lecture because I had a genuine enthusiasm for the course. Today, I run into people all the time who say, 'You don't remember me, but I took your course in 1985.' Many former students tell me how much they enjoyed the course."

Van Allen is survived by his wife, Abigail Fithian Halsey II Van Allen, his five children -- Cynthia Van Allen Schaffner of New York City; Dr. Margot Van Allen Cairns of Vancouver, British Columbia; Sarah Van Allen Trimble of Washington, D.C.; Thomas Van Allen of Aspen, Colo.; and Peter Van Allen of Philadelphia -- and seven grandchildren.


Posts: 480
Registered: Mar 2002

posted 08-09-2006 03:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for STEVE SMITH   Click Here to Email STEVE SMITH     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dr, van Allen , of Van Allen Radiation belt fame passed away today at age 91.

He wa still at University of Iowa and was active.

I look forward to the book Jay Gallentine is writing coming out because it has a section on Dr van Allen.

God Speed, and I hope your new perspective on the Heavens is enjoyable.


Posts: 4803
From: Brussels, Belgium
Registered: Jan 2001

posted 08-09-2006 03:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
He was one of the space era pioneers to be around in this 21st century, Dr van Allen died at the age of 91 ...
I wish his family strength in these difficult times ...

New Member


posted 08-09-2006 04:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FutureAstronaut   Click Here to Email FutureAstronaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The world has lost another great man.
See you some day Mr. Van Allen.


[This message has been edited by FutureAstronaut (edited August 09, 2006).]


Posts: 3093
From: San Diego
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 08-09-2006 05:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

What sad news... another connection to this early era gone.

This is going to make Jay's book all the more important, and I am so glad he was able to interview when he did.


Posts: 1287
From: West Jordan, Utah USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 08-09-2006 07:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote


Posts: 3293
From: Houston, TX
Registered: May 2001

posted 08-09-2006 09:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott   Click Here to Email Scott     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sad news.

I sent him a few things back in the early 1990s and he happily signed them. He was always very good to autograph collectors.

Jay Gallentine

Posts: 249
From: Shorewood, MN, USA
Registered: Sep 2004

posted 08-09-2006 09:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Gallentine   Click Here to Email Jay Gallentine     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Everyone,

A friend from JPL called this afternoon with the news. I work as a computer technician, and when that call came I was standing in the midst of five humming equipment racks trying to figure out why a DVD encoder wasn’t working right. My client had just left the room, and stepped back in a moment later after I was off the phone. He looked at my face and said, “Oh no, is the DVD thing so messed up that you’re teary about it?”

I get sentimental, I guess. I never studied under the guy; all I had were three memorable days in May of 2005 speaking with Dr. Van Allen - just he and I in his unbelievably cluttered office. That was it, along with sporadic follow-up phone calls to clarify details.

I called him after a tornado went through Iowa City some months back. The Good Doctor sounded like he’d just come off a carnival ride: “A wild night, Mr. Gallentine!” he proclaimed. “But the physics building is in gr-r-reat shape!”

This evening, I figured I might offer some insight into the man by The Man himself. What follows is from the aforementioned interview.


How do you account for such great talent being here? It’s not Los Alamos, or Caltech, it’s Iowa City!

Physics works the same in Iowa as it does anyplace else! We had a lot of bright young kids; I was sort of their leader, or scoutmaster.

Do you have the ability to recognize dormant talents in these people? Can you coax it out of them?

I think I bring it out, yeah, I’m pretty good at that, I think.

What is it that you do that does that?

Well, I have I think a certain level of empathy with young people, I can recognize their strengths, and what interests ‘em, and sort of put problems to ‘em, and see how they react to ‘em, and you know I love to teach, I love to explain things, that was one of my principal functions of course, was teaching all this time.

But you’ve always loved your problems.

Yeah I love the problems, to solve problems.

There are these volumes over your shoulder: Problems I, II, III, IV…

Yes, those are some more recent ones I’ve worked up lately, things I’m trying to get straight for many years and finally got straight.

Are those all problems that are waiting to be solved?

No no, those are solutions. Those are interesting problems to which I’ve found the solution.

So do you have another set of binders with other problems?

Yeah I got another, smaller notebook, just lots of jots here, things I intend to do when I get around to it. Those are problems, yeah.

Now you’re still getting up and coming to work each day. How come?

Well I love to work, that’s the main reason. I just love to solve problems and work on problems. I’m a sort of a problem-oriented sort of a guy; like to gnaw away at it.

I notice here in this office, there’s a lot of stuff – books, papers, and they’re your friends, aren’t they?

Oh absolutely, I love this place. If I didn’t have this collection here, I might not come to work.


Best to All,
Jay Gallentine


Posts: 773
From: California
Registered: Oct 2004

posted 08-09-2006 11:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for zee_aladdin   Click Here to Email zee_aladdin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote


New Member


posted 08-10-2006 12:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rodina   Click Here to Email Rodina     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Tomorrow, I will wear a belt in his honor. Right now, I am drinking a belt in his honor. And if anyone takes except to this honor, I'll belt him.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 08-10-2006 08:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thoughts and memories may be shared with the Van Allen family through a special Webpage created by Gay & Ciha.

David Stephenson

Posts: 290
From: England
Registered: Mar 2003

posted 08-10-2006 04:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Stephenson   Click Here to Email David Stephenson     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is very sad new's.
Dr.Van Allen signed me an item earlier this year and it meant a lot to me he took the time to do it.
He will be greatly missed.


Posts: 597
From: Morris County, NJ, USA
Registered: Jan 2006

posted 08-10-2006 05:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cddfspace   Click Here to Email cddfspace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote


Posts: 933
From: South Bend, IN United States of America
Registered: Apr 2002

posted 08-15-2006 08:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceman1953   Click Here to Email spaceman1953     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My own, dear, personal "rocket scientist" is gone.


A new star in the heavens....a new beginning, not an end.

I haven't been to collectSPACE for several days, so I just am reading this now....

I finally stopped in Iowa City a couple of years ex-wife's father married years ago and moved to Cedar Rapids.....and had a couple of boys.

So many, many years ago, we travelled out to visit with them....and Iowa City is just about as beautiful place as you will ever see....a valley of many places.

And a couple of years ago.....we stopped on our way to or from Cedar Rapids.....and stopped in the Physics building....and saw some really great artwork there.....I guess now I remember that there was an article in the Cedar Rapids paper about some paintings and Dr. van Allen.....

And we got into the building and started taking pictures....and Judy (Mrs. Bella) asked me if Dr. van Allen was still alive....and I said "No." and of course I was we took a look at the directory on the wall, and there was his name and office room number....and we got into the elevator.....and off on his floor.....and walked to his office....and there was this big guy sitting at a desk and piles of papers and books and "scientific" equipment piled up....and Judy said, go ahead and KNOCK ON THE DOOR !

So I finally get up the courage....and he stands up and greets us.....the thrill will never be gone.....

And he talked and talked and posed for pictures, and stood next to me for a picture.....and the thrill will never be gone.

And then I had the pictures enlarged and a couple of YEARS later, I finally sent some out to him and asked him to sign....and he wrote back and said he was keeping one or two of the pictures.....which, of course, I did not mind at all.....

And the thrill will never, ever be gone.

Thank you, Dr. James van Allen for EVERYTHING !

Gene Bella
South Bend

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