James A. Van Allen, Regent Distinguished Professor of Physics in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a founding father of space exploration, has been awarded the 2006 National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Trophy — the museum’s highest honor — for Lifetime Achievement.

He was honored March 8 during a private ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum building in Washington, D.C. Van Allen, who was represented at the ceremony by his daughter, Cynthia, addressed the audience by telephone from Iowa. In addition to Van Allen, the Mars Exploration Rover Team was awarded the NASM Trophy for Current Achievement for the two ongoing Mars Exploration Rover missions that began in January 2004.

Established in 1985, the Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes outstanding achievements in scientific or technological endeavors relating to air and space technology and exploration. Trophy winners receive a miniature version of “The Web of Space,” a sculpture by artist John Safer.

Born in Mount Pleasant on Sept. 7, 1914, Van Allen, received his bachelor’s degree in physics, summa cum laude, from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1935. He earned his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1936 and 1939, respectively.

While an undergraduate student at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Van Allen helped prepare scientific equipment for use during the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition, 1934-35. During World War II, he helped develop radio proximity fuzes — detonators to increase the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire — for the defense of ships while at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University. He served in the U.S. Navy as an ordinance and gunnery officer on combatant ships in the South Pacific for 17 months from 1942-1945. Following the war, he developed cosmic-ray detectors carried by high performance rockets to high altitudes for the study of cosmic rays.

In 1950 he led a group that fired high altitude Aerobee rockets from a ship in the Gulf of Alaska. He returned to his alma mater as a faculty member and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa in 1951. He and his UI colleagues continued research on cosmic rays and the polar aurora with balloon-launched rockets from ships off the northwestern coast of Greenland beginning in 1952.

Van Allen helped organize the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year (IGY) and carried out shipboard expeditions to Greenland and southward to the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica in 1957 during the IGY. His instruments, carried aboard the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, in early 1958 provided data for the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.

Van Allen and his research team continued to build payloads for spacecraft. Among his accomplishments is the 1973 first-ever survey of the radiation belts of Jupiter using the Pioneer 10 spacecraft and his 1979 discovery and survey of Saturn’s radiation belts using data from the Pioneer 11 spacecraft.

Though he retired from active teaching in 1985, he continued to monitor data from Pioneer 10 throughout the spacecraft’s 1972-2003 operational lifetime, serve as an interdisciplinary scientist for the Galileo spacecraft, which reached Jupiter on Dec. 7, 1995. He remains an active participant in the national dialogue over the cost of manned versus unmanned space flight.

Van Allen, a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1959, has received many honors, including the 2004 National Space Grant Foundation’s Distinguished Service Award. In ceremonies at the White House in 1987, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for scientific achievement.

In 1989 he received the Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and presented by the King of Sweden. The Crafoord Prize is the highest award the Academy can bestow for research in a number of scientific fields and, for space exploration, is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize.