cover image James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles

James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles

Abigail Foerstner, . . Univ. of Iowa, $37.50 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-87745-999-6

The name Van Allen (1914–2006) is known primarily today through the eponymous belt of radiation discovered in 1958 by equipment he placed on America's first satellite. But science writer Foerstner (Picturing Utopia: Bertha Shambaugh and the Amana Photographers ) says, “Van Allen's career crystallizes the entire history of space exploration.” She tells the story of the Iowa boy who became a major scientific figure but spent his entire professional career working out of the backyard workshop environs of the physics building at the University of Iowa. Van Allen went on to design experiments for early missions to Venus and Mars that determined these planets do not have magnetic fields. Late in his career, the famous Pioneer X and XI voyages to the far reaches of the solar system carried his instruments. Foerstner portrays Van Allen as a wheeler-dealer, knowledgeable in the political workings of NASA but also, in the best Midwestern tradition, a staunch advocate of his students and colleagues. The author had access to all of Van Allen's papers and diaries, and space buffs interested in an important figure of the space era will find this bio worthwhile. 52 photos. (Nov.)