James Van Allen

I was a kind of a one-man army. I could solder circuits together, I could turn out things on the lathe, I could work with rockets and balloons.

James Van Allen (7 September 19149 August 2006) was a space scientist who was instrumental in the early space program of the United States.

QuotesEdit

I'm a kind of a hybrid between an engineer and a physicist and astronomer.
  • I was a kind of a one-man army. I could solder circuits together, I could turn out things on the lathe, I could work with rockets and balloons. I'm a kind of a hybrid between an engineer and a physicist and astronomer."
    • On his early career, "Grounded in Space Science", Interview with Rushworth M. Kidder, The Christian Science Monitor, page 14, December 22, 1989.
  • All this is very good in theory, but in practice, you take a piece of iron, wind a wire around it, then plug the wire in. The core gets hot, the wires smoke, and the fuse blows. So you see, there are practical limitations to theory.
    • Comments to an undergraduate physics class about transformers, Reach Into Space, Time, 1959-05-04.
  • As soon as we started looking at them, we saw the most remarkable situation. My first thought was, "Great guns! Something's gone wrong with the apparatus!" But then we got later North American tapes and everything seemed normal again.
  • Apparently, something happens on the sun. It sends out a burst of gases. The reservoirs above our earth shake like a bowl of jelly. The radiation droozles out at the ends and makes the auroral displays at the North and South Poles.
  • After a vast research program, which depended very heavily upon the use of a number of highspeed computers, I am pleased to offer you the result: "Space is that in which everything else is." In other words, "Space is the hole that we are in."
  • A man is a fabulous nuisance in space right now. He's not worth all the cost of putting him up there and keeping him comfortable and working.

"This is John Lear, Science Editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, calling from New York". (Heavy emphasis on "calling from New York," then a long pause waiting for me to recover from the thrill of hearing from such an important person, in New York, no less.)

Actually, I did know who he was and had often characterized him as the anti-science editor of the Saturday Review.

He continued: "I read of your recent report of the discovery of radiation belts of the Earth and thought that I would do a piece on the subject. What I found remarkable was that such important work had been done at a midwestern state university."

Well, I don't think that I responded with any profanity but I did manage to convey a suggestion as to what he could do with his piece and hung up.

The next day, the president of my university, Virgil M. Hancher, called me to report that Mr. Lear had called him to complain about my discourtesy. I then gave a brief explanation of my reaction, at the end of which Hancher replied "I promised Lear that I would call you and you may now consider that I have done so. And, by the way, Van, my congratulations!"

I never heard from the matter again. It's great to have a boss like that.

Discovery of the Magnetosphere, C. Stewart Gillmore and John R. Spreiter, Editors, History of Geophysics, Volume 7, 1997. 286 pages, ISBN 0-87590-288X. American Geophysical Union.

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Last modified on 17 April 2014, at 00:52