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Release: Immediate

UI and private firm producing documentary on U.S. Space Pioneer James A. Van Allen

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- James A. Van Allen, Regent Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa and a "founding father" of the space age, is the subject of a one-hour-long documentary scheduled for distribution in the spring of 1999 and titled, "James A. Van Allen -- Flights of Fancy."

The documentary is being produced by the UI Video Center in collaboration with Blooming Tree Productions, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, an international documentary production company. It is intended to give alumni, friends of the university and the general public a personal look at the man who headed the UI department of physics and astronomy from 1951 to 1985 and continues to conduct space research to this day. The documentary makes use of historical footage, interviews with past and present colleagues, and data from historic and recent space missions, according to Dan Lind, director of the UI Video Center.

Van Allen, born September 7, 1914 in Mount Pleasant, is perhaps best known for his 1958 discovery of energetic particles in the Earth's magnetic field, a phenomenon later named the Van Allen radiation belts, using data from the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1. However, he is also recognized for his 1973 first-ever survey of Jupiter's radiation belts using the Pioneer 10 spacecraft and his 1979 discovery and survey of Saturn's radiation belts using Pioneer 11. In addition, he has been the primary force behind space research at the University of Iowa, where researchers have designed and built scientific instruments for more than 50 successful U.S. satellites and space probes. Van Allen and his University of Iowa colleagues, Donald Gurnett and Louis Frank, currently have active instruments on three Earth-orbiting satellites and five deep space missions: Pioneer 10, Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Galileo and Cassini.

Van Allen's many 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 Academy's highest award for research in a number of scientific fields and, for space exploration, is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The documentary is being made possible by generous contributions from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the R.J. McElroy Trust and the Iowa Arts Council. The project's Web site is: