J.Allen holding Rockoon.
James Alfred Van Allen (September 7, 1914 – August 9, 2006) was an American space scientist at the University of Iowa. He was instrumental in establishing the field of magnetospheric research in space.
The Van Allen radiation belts were named after him, following their discovery by his Geiger–Müller tube instruments on the 1958 satellites: (Explorer 1, Explorer 3, and Pioneer 3) during the International Geophysical Year. Van Allen led the scientific community for the inclusion of scientific research instruments on space satellites.
About Van Allen
Born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa on September 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 Juno I rocket in October 1957.
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–Müller tube, which provided data and 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.
Also, in 1962 Van Allen became the second recipient of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim International Astronautical Award presented by the International Academy of Astronautics for noteworthy contributions to astronautics, and in March 2006 he received the 2006 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Trophy for lifetime achievement. 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.
Aerobee and Rockoon
Discharged from the Navy in 1946, Van Allen returned to civilian research at APL. He organized and directed a team at Johns Hopkins University to conduct high-altitude experiments, using V-2 rockets captured from the Germans at the end of World War II. Van Allen decided a small sounding rocket was needed for upper atmosphere research and the Aerojet WAC Corporal and the Bumblebee missile were developed under a US Navy program. He drew specifications for the Aerobee and headed the committee that convinced the U.S. government to produce it. The first instrument-carrying Aerobee was the A-5, launched on March 5, 1948 from White Sands, carrying instruments for cosmic radiation research, reaching an altitude of 117.5 km.
Van Allen elected chairman of the V-2 Upper Atmosphere Panel on December 29, 1947. The panel was renamed Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel on March 18, 1948; then Rocket and Satellite Research Panel on April 29, 1948. The panel suspended operations on May 19, 1960 and had a reunion on February 2, 1968.
Cmdr. Lee Lewis, Cmdr. G. Halvorson, S.F. Singer, and James A. Van Allen develop the idea for the Rockoon on March 1, 1949 during the Aerobee rocket firing cruise on the research vessel U.S.S. Norton Sound.
On April 5, 1950 Van Allen left Applied Physics Laboratories, to accept a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation research fellowship at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The following year (1951) Van Allen accepted the position as head of the physics department at the University of Iowa. Before long, he was enlisting students in his efforts to discover the secrets of the wild blue yonder and inventing ways to carry instruments higher into the atmosphere than ever before. By 1952, Van Allen was the first to devise a balloon-rocket combination that lifted rockets on balloons high above most of the Earth’s atmosphere before firing them even higher. The rockets were ignited after the balloons reached an altitude of 16 kilometers.
As Time magazine reported in 1959, “Van Allen’s ‘Rockoons’ could not be fired in Iowa for fear that the spent rockets would strike an Iowan or his house.” So Van Allen convinced the U.S. Coast Guard to let him fire his rockoons from the icebreaker Eastwind that was bound for Greenland. “The first balloon rose properly to 70,000 ft., but the rocket hanging under it did not fire. The second Rockoon behaved in the same maddening way. On the theory that extreme cold at high altitude might have stopped the clockwork supposed to ignite the rockets, Van Allen heated cans of orange juice, snuggled them into the third Rockoon’s gondola, and wrapped the whole business in insulation. The rocket fired.”
In 1953 the Rockoons and their science payloads fired off Newfoundland detected the first hint of radiation belts surrounding Earth. The low-cost Rockoon technique was later used by the Office of Naval Research and The University of Iowa research groups in 1953-55 and 1957, from ships at sea between Boston and Thule, Greenland.
In 1954, in a private discussion about the Redstone project with Ernst Stuhlinger, Wernher von Braun expressed his belief that they should have a “real, honest-to-goodness scientist” involved in their little unofficial satellite project. “I’m sure you know a scientist somewhere who would fill the bill, possibly in the Nobel Prize class, willing to work with us and to put some instruments on our satellite.” Stuhlinger, himself a cosmic ray researcher during his college years, and having worked with Van Allen at White Sands with V-2 rockets, was ready with his reply: “Yes, of course, I will talk to Dr. Van Allen.”
Stuhlinger followed this by a visit with Van Allen at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, where Van Allen was on sabbatical leave from Iowa to work on stellarator design. Van Allen later recounted, “Stuhlinger’s 1954 message was simple and eloquent. By virtue of ballistic missile developments at Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), it was realistic to expect that within a year or two a small scientific satellite could be propelled into a durable orbit around the earth (Project Orbiter)…. I expressed a keen interest in performing a worldwide survey of the cosmic-ray intensity above the atmosphere.”
In 1955, the U.S. announced Project Vanguard as part of the US contribution to the International Geophysical Year, a project to launch an artificial satellite into an orbit around the Earth. It was to be run by the US Navy and to be based on developing sounding rockets, which had the advantage that they were primarily used for non-military scientific experiments.
The symposium on “The Scientific Uses of Earth Satellites” was held on January 26 and 27, 1956 at the University of Michigan under sponsorship of the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel, chaired by Dr. Van Allen. 33 scientific proposals were presented for inclusion in the IGY satellites. Van Allen’s presentation highlighted the use of planned U.S. satellites for continuing cosmic-ray investigations. At this same time his Iowa Group began preparations for scientific research instruments to be carried by ‘Rockoons‘ and Vanguard for the International Geophysical Year. Through “preparedness and good fortune,” as he later wrote, those scientific instruments were available for incorporation in the 1958 Explorer and Pioneer IGY launches.
Van Allen Probes
On Nov. 9, 2012 NASA renamed the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), a mission to study Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts, as the Van Allen Probes mission in honor of the late James A. Van Allen, U.S. space pioneer and longtime distinguished professor of physics in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Applied Physics Laboratory, where Dr. Van Allen worked for a decade, is responsible for the overall implementation and instrument management for RBSP. The primary mission is scheduled to last 2 years, with expendables expected to last for 4 years.