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James A. Van Allen Papers

Identifier: RG99.0142
Student records in advisee files are restricted. THE JAMES A. VAN ALLEN PAPERS, 1938-1990, chronicle the professional career in upper atmosphere research, space physics research, and academia of Dr. James Van Allen; and document how the shifting research trends affected the career of one scientist. This substantial collection includes papers created or consolidated by Dr. Van Allen excluding those connected to his tenure as Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa. The Van Allen Papers (The Papers) encompass a multitude of topics from early upper atmospheric research in the 1950s, using balloons, to spacecraft missions to the outer planets in the 1970s; from the unofficial post-World War II V-2 Panel in the mid 1940s to the creation of NASA in 1958; and from his advice to students and to presidents. In addition, Van Allen's membership on numerous planning and advisory committees, documented in this collection, complement the technical record contained in the extensive mission files. The documentary material preserved by Van Allen has extraordinary richness and breadth in describing the evolution of upper atmospheric research and the birth and evolution of space research. Dr. Van Allen's invaluable participation in the archival processing of these papers provided both continuity and a context which greatly enhanced the collection. Technological advances were essential to the progression of scientific investigations in space. Prior to 1945, ionization chambers and Geiger tubes were carried aloft into the Earth's lower atmosphere by balloons. Advances in military rocketry made during World War opened the possibility of scientific research at higher altitudes. The capture and subsequent transfer of German rocket engineers and V-2 rocket components to the U.S. by the Army Ordnance Department was a major technological advance. The U.S. military sought development of ballistic missile capabilities by examining the V-2 rocket's performance while at the same time offering payload space for scientific research. Van Allen's proximity fuze work at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) during the war established his research credentials. Immediately after the war, Van Allen was in a position to oversee the construction of scientific payloads for launch aboard the captured V-2 rockets. The Papers document both early V-2 rocket research and the advances which allowed later instrumentation to orbit the Earth and other planets. The experience gained by Van Allen at the APL served him well in later years. In the early 1950s the National Science Foundation was established to enable scientists from industry and universities to obtain funding for research under nonmilitary auspices. This step was the beginning of a major shift from military oriented research to research funded by a civilian agency. A further formalization of this shift occurred in 1958 when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established to coordinate, fund, and logistically support research in the upper atmosphere and the nation's emerging space program. Because NASA was a federally funded agency, the acceptance of federal tax support imposed additional administrative requirements on scientific activity, involving additional paperwork and changes in the division of labor in the laboratory. This evolution is evidenced in The Papers by comparing the volume of administrative records for the Explorer I mission launched in 1958 and the Pioneer 10 mission launched in 1972. This collection is divided into ten main series reflecting Van Allen's diverse career: Personal and Biographical Papers (1.7 linear feet) Department of Terrestrial and Magnetism Papers (0.5 linear feet), Applied Physics Laboratory Papers (3.3 linear feet), University of Iowa Papers (170.4 linear feet), Manuscripts and Publications (9.6 linear feet), Photographs (5.4 linear feet), James A. Van Allen Library, Audio-Visual Material (13.0 linear feet), Artifacts and Sample of Data (7.0 linear feet). This collection contains numerous forms of documentation including proposals, correspondence, contracts, varied reports, handwritten notes, logsheets, artifacts, audio-visual material, and manuscripts. Series I, PERSONAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL PAPERS, (Boxes 1-5) PERSONAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL PAPERS, 1932-1990, contain primarily Van Allen's undergraduate and graduate academic papers include research papers and dissertation work papers. In addition, Van Allen's correspondence files from the mid 1930's and other personal correspondence from later years have been retained in the series. Other interesting materials include a copy of his autobiographical article written in 1990 for the Annual Review of earth and Planetary Sciences, copies of Van Allen's vitae, and a copy of the 1981 oral history interviews of Dr. Van Allen by David Devorkin of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (Box 0 Folders 1-3). In addition, a relatively complete listing of the awards received by Van Allen is contained in Box 0 Folder 4 and in his vitae. Series II, DEPARTMENT OF TERRESTRIAL MAGNETISM PAPERS (Box 6) DEPARTMENT OF TERRESTRIAL MAGNETISM PAPERS, 1939 - 1942 briefly document Van Allen's position first as a research fellow (1939-1941) and then as a physicist (I 941-1942) at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. Most of his research was classified and what remains in this series is the unclassified correspondence, manuscripts, and a sampling of Van Allen's notebooks and holograph notes. It was during this period that Van Allen's research interest shifted from nuclear physics to what would later be called space physics. Impressed by the research of coworkers Forbush and Vestine, Van Allen resolved to "make geomagnetism, cosmic rays, and solar terrestrial physics his fields of research - at some unidentified future date." (Van Allen autobiography p.8) Further information on Van Allen's research activities at the DTM may be obtained from the Carnegie Institution. Series III, APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY PAPERS (Boxes 7-14) THE APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY PAPERS, 1942 and 1946-1961, chronicle Van Allen's tenure as a physicist at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL); however much of his work was classified and remains at the APL. Research at the APL focused upon proximity fuzes in 1942 and high altitude experimentation in the mid-late 1940s. Van Allen's postwar research interests at the APL were to measure the intensity of the primary cosmic radiation, to conduct high altitude photographic reconnaissance, and to measure atmospheric ozone. While working at the APL, Van Allen was invited to join a small cadre of American scientists from universities and governmental laboratories, to form an unofficial group called the V-2 Panel whose goal was to guide and oversee a program of scientific research using V-2 rockets and Aerobee rockets. The most complete picture of this Panel is detailed in the unabridged and complete set of Panel meeting minutes (1945-1958), filed under the Advisory and Professional Activities of the University of Iowa Papers. V-2 rocket research constituted a unique period in the conduct of scientific research. The V-2 Panel identified potential research scientists, reviewed proposals, and assigned available resources and launch priorities. Operations were at an intense pace due of the Army's time schedule, and rocket flight opportunities strained the scientists' ability to prepare instrumentation. This ample availability of flights greatly reduced competition among scientists. Scientific payloads were based primarily on gentleman s agreements between the scientist and the military. Administrative requirements for the V-2 research program were also minimal. Researchers prepared brief informal reports describing their instruments, scientific objectives, and results. This informal modus operandi contrasts sharply with the formal procedures that characterize present day research. This luxury of ample flight opportunities and the minimal administrative requirements are primary characteristics of what is often referred to by researchers as the "good old days". In addition to retaining Panel documentation, individual V-2 flight folders containing correspondence, data graphs, blueprints, proposals, reports, and a summary of V-2 work, are filed under the APL Papers. These flight folders depict only a portion of the total V-2 record since this research program required the coordination of a diverse group of people and organizations. The Army supplied the V-2 rockets; the Naval Research Laboratory was responsible for telemetry, ground stations, command receivers, and payload shells; and the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts provided valuable assistance including tracking, telemetry reception, and equipment recovery. Additional information may be available from these organizations. A map of several V-2 impact points is a part of this collection (Box 11 Folder 5). While others were responsible for the launch and operations of the V-2 rockets, the research scientists controlled the design and development of their instruments guided by available resources and the size and weight restrictions mandated by the launch vehicle. In spite of cooperation between military and civilian personnel, experimenters were given minimal knowledge of the rocket technology. Research utilizing V-2 rockets produced valuable results concerning the nature of cosmic rays, the solar spectrum, and the distribution of atmospheric ozone. Additionally cameras aboard the V-2 rockets were used to take high altitude photographs of the Earth. The limited supply and the expense of assembling and firing the V-2 rockets led to the development of a low cost sounding rocket to be utilized for scientific research. This rocket, the Aerobee, was developed under the joint guidance of Van Allen at the APL and Rolf Sebersky at the Aerojet Corporation and was supported by the Navy Bureau of Ordnance and the Naval Office of Research and Inventions (later ONR). The Aerobee drastically reduced the cost of a single research mission. Most of the early Aerobees were launched from the White Sands Proving Ground, beginning on November 24, 1947. Later Aerobees were launched from the USS Norton Sound on its 1949 mission to the Peruvian coast and its 1950 mission to the Gulf of Alaska. Instrumentation flown aboard these rockets consisted of radiation detectors of various types, solar spectrographs, magnetometers, mass spectrometers, and cameras. Van Allen and his associates developed the scientific objectives of each flight and prepared all sensors, batteries, power supplies, and ,electronics and conducted all preflight testing and post flight data reduction, analysis and interpretation. In the period 1946-1951 forty-eight V-2 rockets and thirty Aerobee rockets carried scientific equipment for all U.S. groups. In addition to the foldered material on the V-2 and Aerobee rockets, field notes taken by Van Allen during his research may be found in the University of Iowa Papers Subseries K, Field Notebooks. It was during this early postwar period that Van Allen developed his research style of identifying scientific objectives and building instruments as simply and reliably as possible. In addition, Van Allen formed a network of working relationships with a diverse group of people from different military, university, and governmental institutions. The APL Papers house a variety of information including V-2 and Aerobee flight files which may contain correspondence, data, telemetry information, and/or blueprints. The general APL files contain proposals, correspondence, memos, research manuscripts or reports, and holograph notes. Additional material includes a booklet explaining the story of APL (Box 7 Folder 2), files on the post-war brainstorming group called the Young Turks Committee (Box 7 Folders 6-11), a memo explaining early rocketry nomenclature (Box 12 Folder 3), and files on a data analysis course taught by Van Allen (Box 7 Folders 14-17). The year 1950 marked the beginning of a new decade and a dramatic change in Van Allen's career. In December 1950, Van Allen ended his work at the APL to return to the University of Iowa and become a tenured professor of physics and Head the Department of Physics (expanded to become the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1969). Many ties made during the war and at the APL continued as Van Allen began what became an accomplished career at the University of Iowa. Series IV, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PAPERS (Boxes 15-403) THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PAPERS (1951-1990) document Van Allen's professional career at the University of Iowa and is the largest body of material in this collection. Van Allen established upper atmosphere and magnetospheric research at the university and led the development of an internationally recognized program which is documented by the extensive satellite and spacecraft mission files and other research files. In addition to teaching and research, he contributed to the national policy by advising presidents and Congress, participating in professional organizations and serving on numerous advisory committees and panels. Extensive documentation of these advisory activities is included in this collection under Subseries D, Advisory and Professional Activities (Boxes 229-342). A great change in available research resources accompanied Van Allen's new job. Instead of the ample funding of the APL under Merle Tuve's directorship, Van Allen was confronted with no research budget and the need to raise research funds. In addition, there were no established laboratory facilities within the department in which he could initiate a program of cosmic ray research. Van Allen began by cleaning an obsolete battery storage room within the physics building and setting up a basic laboratory. However, no university moneys were allotted to purchase the necessary balloons and equipment to be used in high altitude cosmic ray research. In 1951, Van Allen was able to secure a $2,500 grant from the Research Corporation (Box 42 Folder 4). This grant combined with the department's two skilled instrument workers and five newly recruited graduate students allowed Van Allen to begin a series of balloon flights designed to study the composition of cosmic rays. In 1951, the Department of Physics was comprised of 12 faculty members, 20-25 graduate students, undergraduate students, and one departmental secretary who worked for the entire faculty. Realizing that the university would be unable to support a high altitude research program, Van Allen applied for a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) in 1951. The proposal for a comprehensive study of the latitude dependence of cosmic ray intensities using balloon launched rockets, "Rockoons", was approved and funded. A "Rockoon" is a small, instrument-carrying rocket launched at an altitude of about 15 kilometers from a balloon-designed as a low cost technique for reaching altitudes up to about 100 kilometers. The University received a great deal of additional support from the Navy which supplied surplus Deacon rockets and the helium used by the balloons. The Navy also provided transportation by ship to the various launching sites including the Arctic and the Antarctic. Papers documenting these activities may be found in the subseries Research Papers under ONR, Rockoon, and the balloon files. The University of Iowa Papers are divided into thirteen subseries: A. General correspondence; B. Research papers; C. Reference and subject files; D. Advisory and professional activities; E. Conference files; F. Trip files; G. Professorial material; H. Journals and diaries; I. Calendars; J. Telephone logbooks; K. Field notebooks; L. Van Allen holograph notes; and M. Speeches and congressional testimony. General Correspondence, Subseries A General Correspondence (Boxes 15-42), 1952-1985, are comprised principally of letters and memos filed by Evelyn D. Robison, Van Allen's long time project assistant. Approximately two-thirds of these letters are professional correspondence with colleagues; the rest are letters to Van Allen in his role as a public figure. These papers are divided into three categories: letters separated chronologically by the first letter of the author's last name (referred to by Mrs. Robison as the Misc. A-Z files), subject files, and lastly correspondence filed chronologically. The first two categories were created by Mrs. Robison as a normal course of business operations; the last category was formed to organize unfoldered correspondence. Letters from colleagues include letters from and to Wernher Von Braun, Hannes Alfven (Box 223 Folders 1-3), and Arthur Compton. Many politicians including Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon also contacted Van Allen. In addition students of all ages and the general public sent inquiries ranging from requests for an autograph to requests for a review of their new theory. The more bizarre letters received by Van Allen were filed by Mrs. Robison in the "Unfortunate Persons" subject file (Box 30-31). Research, Subseries B Research (Boxes 42-208), 1950-1989, encompass material involved with the funding, organization, and implementation of Dr. Van Allen's numerous scientific projects supported by both military and civil agencies. This subseries has been further divided into 1. Sponsoring Agencies including the Research Corporation, ONR, NASA, NSF, and the AEC (Boxes 42-66); 2. Proposals (Boxes 67-83); 3. Satellite and Spacecraft Mission files including Explorer I and subsequent missions for which Van Allen either acted as the Principal Investigator, had an interest in, or student working on (Boxes 84-179); 4. Satellite and Spacecraft Missions, Department Research (Boxes 180-182); 5. Proposed Iowa spacecraft which never flew including Pioneer H and Mariner Mars 1971 (Boxes 183-187); 6. Other non-satellite research including balloons, rockoons, and the Starfish Project (Boxes 188-203); and 7. Security Files (Boxes 204-208). Sponsoring agency files detail military and government contracts, evolving research interests, and the expanding administrative requirements necessitated by the acceptance of federal funding. This documentation includes proposals, contracts, budget and progress reports, correspondence, and final reports. Interesting papers include a series of NASA files documenting the university's unsuccessful attempt to persuade NASA to build an Electronics Center in Iowa City (Boxes 53-54). Records from the ad hoc Science Advisory Committee, Committee on Astronautics and Aeronautics, and OSSA are also filed under NASA. The proposals are divided into three categories: Van Allen's proposals, Iowa Faculty proposals, and Miscellaneous proposals. The proposals reflect not only the heart of Van Allen's scientific interest but also the formalization of space science research as revealed by their increasing complexity. The third and fourth categories, Satellite and Spacecraft Missions, contain the core record of Van Allen's experimental activity over several decades at the University of Iowa. These mission files are arranged chronologically and frequently document Van Allen and his colleagues' research from conception to completion. Records include proposals, contracts, progress reports, design blueprints, test data, flight data, and final reports. In addition to flying instrumentation on 24 satellite missions as principal investigator, Van Allen also led Arctic and Antarctic research expeditions, and participated in early work on developing controlled fusion (Project Matterhorn at Princeton University) and ONR research. Records of research conducted during shipboard expeditions utilizing balloons and Rockoons have been retained in this subseries. Additional research by Van Allen contained in this subseries includes files on the Starfish Test, the Argus Program, and cosmic ray research. A small fraction of Van Allen's research at the University of Iowa involved classified information and appropriate precautions were taken to protect the restricted files. The Security Files represent a cross section of the security requirements from the 1940s to the 1980s. In 1970 and again in 1984 the University of Iowa took steps to restrict classified research from being done on university grounds. Reference and Subject Files, Subseries C Reference and Subject Files (Boxes 209-228), 1941-1984, represent a body of material collected by Van Allen in support of his professional research interests. This subseries is further segregated into the following categories: Soviet file (Boxes 209-215), instrumentation brochures (Boxes 216-219), non-SUI spacecraft missions (Boxes 219-221), catalog of solar x-rays (Box 222), and material on the Amana company. Material in the Soviet file includes papers on Van Allen's trip to the Soviet Union in 1959, the 1960 visit to Iowa City by Russian scientists, and numerous translations of Russian scientific papers. Non-SUI missions detail research from the early 1950s to the Solar Maximum mission in the mid-1970s. Advisory and Professional Activities, Subseries D Advisory and Professional Activities (Boxes 229-342), documents Van Allen's extensive and influential participation in numerous non-academic advisory bodies, beginning soon after the end of World War II. This subseries has been further segregated into 1. Committees, Panels and Working Groups; 2. Professional Societies and Other Affiliations; and 3. Refereeing and Reviews. In late 1945, Ernst Krause of the NRL organized a group of scientists, including Van Allen, to oversee the scientific utilization of refurbished German V-2 rockets. This informal group called the V-2 Rocket Panel supervised the nation's upper atmospheric rocket research for over a decade. In his book Origins of Magnetospheric Physics, Van Allen describes the Panel meetings as "a mixture of shared experiences, plans and results and a continuous updating of schedules and assignments of payload space". A complete set of formal (and some draft) Panel meeting minutes, as drafted by the secretary and edited into final form by Van Allen, are contained in Boxes 229-231. As rocket technology evolved, so too did the V-2 Panel. In 1946 Van Allen succeeded Ernst Krause as chairman and served as chairman until the group's dissolution in 1958. In 1951, the Panel was renamed the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel (UARRP) as the focus of space science research shifted from utilizing V-2 rockets to exploring the earth's upper atmosphere using the Aerobee and other U.S. rockets. In 1955 it was further renamed the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel (RSRP) to encompass the expected use of artificial satellites for research. This Panel embodied the spirit of scientific research at high altitudes in the postwar era, namely a small group of scientists funded primarily by military agencies requiring minimal administrative arrangements. The 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year, partly an outgrowth of the work by the V-2 Panel, contributed to fostering space physics research. In 1958 the National Academy of Sciences established the Space Science Board to advise the federal government on the nation's emerging space policy. Van Allen was a member of the SSB from 1958-1970 and from 1980-1983 (Boxes 258-294). He also served as a consultant to the President's Science Advisory Committee from 1957-1960 (Boxes 257-258); as a member of the Panel on Science and Technology of the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1959-1972; and testified on numerous occasions before congressional committees. A complete listing of Dr. Van Allen's external professional activities and membership in professional societies may be found in his curriculum vitae contained in this guide. Additional advisory responsibilities included acting as a referee of papers for the Physical Review Letters and the Journal of Geophysics Research(Box 342). A wide variety of papers including correspondence, memos, meeting minutes, and issued reports document Van Allen's advisory activities.


  • 1938-1990


Conditions Governing Access

Student records in advisee files are restricted.


378.00 linear feet

Photographs in Series VI; AV material in Series VIII; Artifacts in Series IX. other_unmapped

Other Descriptive Information

Processing Information

B Partially Processe

Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242