Deciding on a future

On admission to DePauw, Allen became a Rector Scholar, a programme that recognises students who have demonstrated significant academic achievements on their high school transcripts and college entrance exams. At this time he still had no clear thoughts about what he wanted to do later in life, although science would obviously be predominant.

"When I grew up there were no astronauts. The idea of going to space was crazy -science fiction. I wound up in a profession that had not been invented when I was in high school.5 Living in a rapidly changing world as we do, particularly with regard to science and technology, one cannot prepare in school by studying all the processes and technologies that will possibly be needed in your years ahead. Rather, one must learn the basics of science and the scientific method and learn, in addition, 'how to learn'. When one does that as a young person in school, then one is safeguarded against becoming obsolete.''

Both he and his brother David, later to become a physician, were involved in varsity wrestling and were made members of the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. Joe had also met an attractive fellow student named Bonnie Jo Darling from Elkhart, Indiana, who had entered DuPauw as a freshman when he was a junior. They dated briefly in his senior year.

After graduating in mathematics and physics in 1959, Allen travelled to Germany under a grant as a Fulbright post-graduate scholar to continue his studies. This programme was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, and was intended to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries. It was only available to students who had achieved a Bachelor's degree or the equivalent. Allen was readily accepted by fellow students at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, but only on the challenging proviso that he would speak nothing but German, even though many of his new classmates spoke excellent English. It was the best possible way to learn German, and he consequently became fluent in the language - as they had intended. ''Every journey changes a person. Part of the way a person is changed by a journey is in being away from home and gaining a new perspective and a new appreciation for home.'' During that year he formed many friendships of lifelong tenure, and would later host several German high school students in the United States.

On his return home, Allen continued his studies at Yale University. He had also been regularly corresponding with Bonnie Jo, now a senior at DePauw. ''We were good at writing letters and meeting occasionally during school breaks, usually at her parents' home in Elkhart, near the border between Indiana and Michigan. She graduated from DePauw in June 1961, and we were married in Elkhart in July 1961. We then drove to a small apartment we had in New Haven, Connecticut. I continued my physics studies at Yale, and she taught second grade at a nearby school.''

In 1961 he was awarded his Master of Science degree at Yale, and became a guest research associate at the Brookhaven National Laboratory from 1962-1965. During this time he completed his doctoral dissertation, entitled 'Studies of Quantum Shapes in the S-D Shell.' This, he says, involved ''using nuclear particle accelerators known as 'van de Graaff accelerators'. I bombarded oxygen nuclei with proton, deuteron and helium beams, causing the oxygen nucleus to absorb energy; then, nanoseconds later, releasing that energy by gamma-ray decay, thus revealing properties of the excited quantum states of the oxygen nuclei. Such studies provide data giving credence to (or casting doubt on) the validity of various theoretical nuclear models. One such model of the nucleus is known as the 'shell model,' hence the term 'S-D Shell'.''

After receiving his PhD in nuclear physics from Yale in May 1965, Allen became a staff research physicist for the following year at the university's Nuclear Structure Laboratory. During the period 1963 to 1967, he also served as a guest research associate at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He then took up an appointment at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he would become a research associate and instructor on a post-doctoral fellowship in their Nuclear Physics Laboratory.

Joe Allen did not apply for the first scientist-astronaut group in 1965, as he was simply ''totally unaware of the opportunity.'' However, in the fall of 1966, and just before relocating to the University of Washington, he saw a notice on a Yale bulletin board. It said that NASA was recruiting scientist-astronauts. ''I responded by sending in an inquiry and expressing interest in further communication from NASA - if appropriate in that I had just finished a degree.

''On 30 January, I received a letter from a NASA official asking if I was still interested. This letter had been sent to me at Yale in early January, and then forwarded to me in Seattle. Reading it for the first time when I did gave me a macabre feeling to say the least, in that the Apollo fire had occurred just three days earlier. For this reason, I decided not to share with my dear wife Bonnie the fact that I had applied and was going to pursue the application. It was not unlike telling one's spouse of spending hard-earned money on buying a lottery ticket. The tricky part of this story comes if you win the lottery!''

When asked where he thought his career path might have taken him had he not become a scientist-astronaut, Joe Allen said that was ''just about impossible to know. However, when selected by NASA, I had a very enjoyable and responsible job as junior faculty at a major university. I quite possibly would have continued as a research physicist and physics professor.''

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