Today is Spaceday (Sez Me)

An astrologer or an astronomer could maybe tell me why this is so, but August 10 is a day with a lot of space-related anniversaries.

In 1966, this is the day the United States’ first lunar orbiter was launched. In 1972, a heavy meteorite (apparently one million kilograms, though I'm not sure how they could have measured it) grazed the atmosphere above Canada. (Thanks to Brainy History for this little tidbit, which is uncredited, so have your salt cellar standing by.)

Then on this day in 1990, the Magellan spacecraft landed on Venus. I don't know how I didn't know that before now. Or, if I did, why it didn't register. What mini-drama was happening in my life that summer in order to obscure what was arguably the most important space happening in history from my consciousness? Maybe I was watching TNG?

Today's space news is sad: the noted physicist James A. Van Allen -- he of the Van Allen belt -- died Wednesday in Iowa City. He was 91 and still an active member of the faculty of the University of Iowa. According to The New York Times:

The cause was heart failure, family members said. Van Allen was a longtime professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, and, with the discovery of the Van Allen belts of intense radiation surrounding Earth, he became a leading figure in the new field of magnetospheric physics, which grew in importance as spacecraft began exploring the planets.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen got all pleasantly poetic about their hometown boy:

Van Allen was responsible for no less than getting the United States into the space race at a time when the nation was terrified that the Soviet Union would conquer us from above.

It was Oct. 4, 1957, when the USSR launched Sputnik, a 183-pound, basketball-sized satellite that became the first man-made object in Earth orbit.
The Soviets' triumph struck fear in the heart of the United States, and the government immediately took action not only to bolster its own efforts to reach space, but to improve math and science education in public schools.

Van Allen was hailed as a national hero when the United States struck back.


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