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November 21, 2012

In The Loop: NASA Renames Mission to Honor Pioneering Physicist James Van Allen

NASA has officially renamed the recently launched mission to study Earth's radiation belts the Van Allen Probes, in honor of the late James Van Allen.

The new name of the mission, previously called the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), was announced during a Nov. 9, 2012 ceremony at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. APL built the probes and manages the mission for NASA.

Van Allen was the head of the physics department at the University of Iowa and is recognized for his discovery in 1958 of radiation belts encircling Earth. During his career, Van Allen was the principal investigator for scientific investigations on 24 Earth satellites and planetary missions, beginning with the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, and continuing with Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. He helped develop the first plans for an International Geophysical Year, held in 1957, and is credited with discovery of a moon of Saturn in 1979, as well as radiation belts around that planet. Van Allen worked at APL both during and after World War II on some of the Laboratory's most prominent early research projects, including the variable timing (VT) fuze that helped end the war.

The ceremony's speakers included Dr. John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington; Dr. Ralph Semmel, director, APL; Dr. Mona Kessel, RBSP program scientist, NASA Headquarters; and Rick Fitzgerald, Space Department program area manager, APL. A small plaque commemorating the renaming was presented by NASA to two of Van Allen's children, who attended the event.

The Van Allen Probes are part of NASA's Living With a Star Program to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. LWS is managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. APL built the Van Allen probes and manages the mission for NASA.

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