NASA’s Chief Scientist Jim Green has announced that he will retire in early 2022 after more than 40 years of service at NASA.
“I feel tremendously proud about the activities I’ve done at NASA,” said Green. “In many ways, NASA is not a job. It’s a way of life. We’re always looking for ways to do the impossible. The fact that we continue to succeed and do those things is a tremendous excitement for everyone, and really is important not just for NASA, but for the nation.”
From starting up NASA’s first internet to conducting groundbreaking research to hosting NASA’s popular podcast “Gravity Assist,” Green’s contributions to the agency are countless and varied.
“Over his more than four decades at NASA, Jim has successfully led teams to accomplish incredible missions – including the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto, the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter, and the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Jim’s contributions helped us gain a better understanding of our solar system and our place in it. I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”
Green began his NASA career at the Magnetospheric Physics Branch at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1980. There, he developed and managed the Space Physics Analysis Network, SPAN, which was NASA’s first version of an internet. SPAN helped to herald the era of open science, in which scientists worldwide could rapidly access data and information, as well as communicate with each other.
Also at Marshall, Green served as a safety diver at Marshall’s Neutral Buoyancy tank and made more than 150 dives. There, he collaborated with astronauts and engineers who trained to fly on Shuttles, perform space walks, as well as make repairs in orbit on satellites such as such as the Solar Maximum Mission and Hubble.
In his science career, Green has specialized in the study of magnetic and electric fields and low energy plasma in the solar system. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, he served as the co-investigator and the deputy project scientist on the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) mission, the first spacecraft dedicated to imaging Earth’s magnetosphere. He also became the deputy project scientist for mission operations and data analysis for two heliophysics missions that studied solar activity in the near-Earth environment: Wind and POLAR.
Green’s contributions went on to expand far beyond magnetospheric science. His passion for space and thirst for knowledge led him to write more than 125 scientific articles in refereed journals across many different topics across planetary science and astrophysics. He has also written over 50 technical articles on various aspects of data systems and computer networks.
In 2006, Green became the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, a role he held until 2018. He counts among his biggest highlights the landing of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars in 2012, employing a risky and complicated maneuver involving a “sky crane” for the first time. Green took a keen interest in getting the public excited about the event and help ensure that the world would celebrate the successful touchdown.
“I came to realize how important it was to tell the public what we were doing, to bring them along for the ride,” he said. “That really started with the landing of Curiosity.”
Under Green’s leadership, NASA also successfully saw Juno investigate Jupiter, MESSENGER study Mercury, Dawn orbit both Vesta and Ceres, New Horizons fly by Pluto, and much more. Green also approved plans for the Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021.
Green helped develop a new way to engage the public in 2016 when he was invited to host a NASA podcast. The show “Gravity Assist” features interviews about the agency’s science activities and people who make space exploration happen. He named it “Gravity Assist” after the boost in speed that a spacecraft gets when it flies by a planetary body. But metaphorically, a “gravity assist” is the person, place, thing, or event that inspires someone to go into their chosen profession since it accelerates them in a different direction and reach a new goal.
Since becoming the agency’s chief scientist in 2018, Green has continued writing scientific papers and still plays a key role in generating excitement about space exploration.
During his remaining time with the agency, he will participate in the search for a new chief scientist and assist with the new official’s transition.
“Jim has touched so many important missions over the course of his illustrious career at NASA, not to mention the inspiration he instills in so many who lead the way in space across the board,” said Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “His accolades and accomplishments precede him, and his contributions have been crucial to the success of our missions, allowing us to learn more about our solar system to the benefit of our country and humanity. We are incredibly grateful for his service and I wish him the best in his retirement.”
In retirement, he plans to continue collaborating with the agency, working on science, and giving gravity assists wherever he can.