NASA has renamed the recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission as the Van Allen Probes in honor of the late Dr. James Van Allen. Van Allen was the head of the physics department at the University of Iowa who discovered the radiation belts encircling Earth in 1958. This was announced Friday during a ceremony at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. at a ceremony that also highlighted the spacecraft’s commissioning activities.
“James Van Allen was a true pioneer in astrophysics,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “His ground breaking research paved the way for current and future space exploration. These spacecraft now not only honor his iconic name but his mark on science.”
Van Allen helped develop the initial plans for an International Geophysical Year that took place in 1957. He was the principal investigator for the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, and continuing with Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, went on to be principal investigator on 24 Earth Satellite and planetary missions.
The Van Allen probes were launched on Aug. 30, 2012, and comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically created to investigate the Van Allen belts that surround Earth. These two belts, encircle the planet and are filled with highly charged particles. The belts can sometimes swell dramatically, due to solar storms and coronal mass ejections. When this happens, they can disrupt communications, GPS satellites and pose a danger to human spaceflight activities.
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