National Space Society Governor James A. Van Allen Biography

james van allen biography portrait

James A. Van Allen


Former Member of the National Space Society Board of Governors

Dr. Van Allen received his B.S. in Physics from Wesleyan College in 1935, his M.S. in 1936, and his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics in 1939, both from the University of Iowa. As a Naval Officer, he served in the Pacific Fleet during World War II.

Dr. Van Allen was Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa from 1951 to 1985. His additional professional experience included research at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University. He authored 280 research papers on a variety of subjects from cosmic rays to planetary magnetospheres.

Dr. Van Allen was a pioneer in space exploration since 1946. His near-earth and high-altitude research as well as his research of the use of the V-2 rocket in association with its developer Wernher von Braun led to the formation of America’s Space Program. Discoverer of the Earth’s radiation belts (named in his honor), Dr. Van Allen was Principal Investigator for the Explorer, Pioneer, Injun, Traac, and Mariner space missions — the first to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Dr. Van Allen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1959 and was the recipient of countless citations, awards and honors including: 5 U.S. patents, 15 honorary degrees, 35 awards for scientific achievement, the Gold Medal from the United Kingdom Royal Astronomical Society, the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences presented by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Stockholm, the Nansen Medal from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Board, and the National Medal of Science from President Ronald Reagan.

In his later years, Dr. Van Allen was Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Iowa and was involved in numerous research projects relating to the exploration of the solar system and the universe at large.