James Van Allen, a real pioneer of space exploration, died a couple of days ago at the age of 91:
He was involved with developing the Explorer 1 satellite, the first object placed into Earth orbit by the US, back in 1958. Among the discoveries of that probe were the radiation belts surrounding Earth, which were named in his honor.
I remember all the news accounts from when Explorer was launched; I was seven years old at the time. I distinctly remember the newspaper photograph of three smiling men holding a mock-up of the Explorer 1 overhead; they were Werner Von Braun, who was responsible for building the rocket that launched Explorer, William Pickering, who was the first Director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built Explorer, and the third was James Van Allen.
When I started at JPL in 1975, Pickering was still the director, although he retired soon afterwards, and passed away just a year or two ago. Von Braun died in 1977, but at the time an older man told me that once he had gone into the men's room and Von Braun himself used the urinal next to him! Being old enough to have lived through WWII, my friend did NOT think highly of Von Braun! But von Braun did get the US space program off the ground, at a time when it was in serious trouble.
But Van Allen was the last of that group, and I'm sorry to see him go. As one with a lifelong interest in robotic space exploration, I think of Von Braun, Pickering and Van Allen as real pioneers and visionaries.
He lived a long life and made contributions in a field that he loved, his work will be remembered long after he's gone. You can't ask for more than that. May he rest in peace.