10 August 2006

R.I.P. James Van Allen, 1914-2006

James Van Allen, one of America's most important contributors to space exploration, died yesterday in Iowa, where he was born, went to college, went to grad school, and taught.

Allen gained global attention in the late 1950s when instruments he designed and placed aboard the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, discovered the bands of intense radiation that surround the earth, now known as the Van Allen Belts.

The success of the flight created nationwide celebration. Equally exciting for the scientists was the discovery of the radiation belts, a discovery that happened slowly over the next weeks and months as they pieced together data coming from the satellite.

“We had discovered a whole new phenomenon which had not been known or predicted before,'' Van Allen said. “We were really on top of the world, professionally speaking.'' Later in 1958, another scientist proposed naming the belts for Van Allen.

Van Allen was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.


Wes said...

Everyone on Planet Earth knows when Brangelina had the baby, but Dr. Van Allen, who contributed so much to our understanding of the world (quite literally) around us, dies in some obscurity. And he's far from alone - how many of our Titans of science, art, and culture pass from the scene with nary a peep?

As Emo Phillips said, somedays it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps.


WestEnder said...

True words, indeed. And whatever happened to Emo...?

(please don't tell me he's working somewhere in FEMA)