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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 31, 2008

Exhibit marks 50th anniversary of U.S., Van Allen entering the Space Age

No parade or national holiday will mark today, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008, the 50th anniversary of the first successfully launched U.S. spacecraft, Explorer 1. The launch marked the U.S. entry into the Space Age with University of Iowa space physicist James A. Van Allen helping to lead the way.

Instead, the event is being commemorated by an exhibit, "Iowa's Space Explorer: James Van Allen," now through March 23 at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. The exhibit was assembled in cooperation with the UI College of Liberals Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy and contains a variety of items on loan from the department including:

--A duplicate of Explorer I and Explorer III payloads, made in 1957 and 1958.
--Numerous photographs showing Van Allen at work.
--A duplicate of a Hawkeye satellite made entirely at the UI in 1973 and launched in 1974.

The exhibit also contains items borrowed from Special Collections at the UI Libraries.

The Space Age formally began Oct. 4, 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. Sputnik was historic, but it merely orbited the Earth. Explorer 1 resulted in the first scientific discovery of the Space Age, for it carried a tiny Geiger counter and instrument package designed and built at the University of Iowa. UI space physicist James A. Van Allen used data collected by the instruments to discover broad regions of electrically charged particles that flow outward from the sun and become trapped in the Earth's magnetic field.

The phenomenon was soon named the "Van Allen radiation belts." The discovery also marked the birth of the research field of magnetospheric physics, which would grow to involve more than 1,000 investigators from more than 20 countries.

Van Allen would make many other discoveries, including his 1973 first-ever survey of the radiation belts of Jupiter using the Pioneer 10 spacecraft and his 1979 discovery and survey of Saturn's radiation belts using data from the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. Also, he was a critic of manned space flight, describing himself as "a member of the loyal opposition" and maintaining that space science could be done better and more cheaply with remote-controlled, unmanned spacecraft. NASA's move toward cheaper, more focused unmanned spacecraft during the 1990s partly resulted from Van Allen's counsel.

Van Allen also built a remarkable research and teaching department at the UI. On more than one occasion in the years prior to his death in 2006 at the age of 91, he noted that his proudest accomplishments were his 35 doctoral students, 48 master's degree students and, especially, the numerous undergraduates who enjoyed his classes.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Further information can be obtained by visiting the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum Web site at:

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,