Iowa History Daily: August 9 - Iowa's Rocketman

Iowa History Daily: On August 9, 2006, American physicist credited with helping launch the US space program and originally from Mount Pleasant, Dr. James Van Allen, passed away in Iowa City. The world-renowned physicist discovered Earth’s radiation belts in 1958 after assessing readings from the Explorer I satellite.

After a childhood in Mount Pleasant, James Van Allen attended the town’s Iowa Wesleyan College. Following graduation in 1935, he headed west to Iowa City to pursue a Master of Science (1936) and a PhD (1939). When Uncle Sam came calling with the onset of World War II, Van Allen helped to develop the radio proximity fuse used in naval artillery shells.

After the war, Van Allen found himself studying high altitude research at John Hopkins University. Leading testing of recently captured German V-2 rockets occupied much of his attention during the late-1940s. He also worked on development of the high-altitude research rocket Aerobee.

In 1951, Van Allen returned to Iowa City to research and teach at the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, Van Allen rose to global fame while spearheading efforts for international research collaboration. A critical designer on the instrumentation for many early NASA projects, Van Allen’s team built the instrumentation for the Explorer satellites.

When readings returned from the Explorer I in 1968, Van Allen discovered two zones of radiation encircling the earth today known as the “Van Allen Belts.” #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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