James A. Van Allen, the physicist who made the first major scientific discovery of the early space age, the Earth-circling radiation belts that bear his name, and sent spacecraft instruments to observe the outer reaches of the solar system, died Wednesday in Iowa City. He was 91.
James A. Van Allen; Discovered Earth's Radiation Belts
Remembering James Van Allen
With Van Allen as scientist, Werner Von Braun as rocket builder, and William Pickering as spacecraft builder, Explorer 1 became the U.S. first successful space mission, and that simple spacecraft’s detection of the Van Allen Belts is remembered as the first major scientific discovery in space. At that dawn of the Space Age, the nature of space exploration was already apparent: It always leads to unexpected discoveries about our universe and the processes that shape our environment.
Nurture Iowa's future Van Allens
He was part of a remarkable generation of American scientists and engineers who are passing from the scene, amid evidence too-few replacements are in the pipeline.Van Allen was admired not only as a pioneer of space exploration but also as a dedicated professor who maintained contact with undergraduates long after his prestige would have allowed him to concentrate solely on research. And he chose to do his life's work at a university in his home state, just 50 miles from his hometown.
From left, William H. Pickering, James Van Allen, and Wernher von Braun -- the three men responsible for the success of Explorer 1, America's first satellite, launched January 31, 1958. Credit: NASA
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