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University of Iowa News Release


May 22, 2009

UI Press releases paperback edition of Van Allen biography

The paperback edition of "James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles," Abigail Foerstner's acclaimed biography of the University of Iowa's famed space pioneer, will become available from the UI Press on June 1.

The book will be available at bookstores or directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from the Eurospan Group online at

Van Allen (1914-2006), for whom the Van Allen radiation belts were named, was among the principal scientific investigators for 24 space missions, including Explorer I in 1958, the first successful U.S. satellite; Mariner 2's 1962 flyby of Venus, the first successful mission to another planet; and the 1970s Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 missions that surveyed Jupiter and Saturn.

Although he retired as a UI professor of physics and astronomy in 1985, he remained an active researcher, using his campus office to monitor data from Pioneer 10 -- on course to reach the edge of the solar system when its signal was lost in 2003 -- until a short time before his death at the age of 91.

Often called the father of space science, Van Allen led the way to mapping a new solar system based on the solar wind, massive solar storms and cosmic rays. Pioneer 10 alone sent him more than 30 years of readings that helped push our recognition of the boundary of the solar system billions of miles past Pluto.

Foerstner blends space science drama, military agendas, cold war politics, and the events of a lengthy career to create the first biography of Van Allen. Drawing on Van Allen's correspondence and publications, years of interviews with him as well as with more than a hundred other people, and declassified documents from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Kennedy Space Center, and the Applied Physics Laboratory, Foerstner follows Van Allen's life from his Iowa childhood through his many space-exploration projects.

Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote, "A distinct contribution, long overdue, this most satisfying biography sets the subject within the context of his time, place and profession. It not only illuminates the early history of space science but also addresses the larger history of the scientific enterprise and even American history."

Foerstner teaches science writing and news writing in the graduate program at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is the author of "Picturing Utopia: Bertha Shambaugh and the Amana Photographers" from the UI Press and of hundreds of articles on science, history and the visual arts.

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