Third Pod Presents: Sci & Tell – Jim Green on Space Exploration

Jim Green. Credit: AGU

We’re trying something new with Third Pod. In addition to your regularly scheduled programming, we’re going to showcase short stories from scientists in a new series we’re dubbing Sci & Tell. Like show & tell, but with science (and audio)! 

Dr. Jim Green has spent 38 years of his life working at NASA. He started there with a fresh Ph.D. in Earth magnetospheric science and helped pioneer the magnetosphere research group at Marshall Space Flight Center. He spent 12 years as the division chief for NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division and was recently appointed to be NASA’s, Chief Scientist. His years of leadership in the space science community has helped shape what he calls the “golden age of planetary science” and has inspired a new generation of scientists and science enthusiasts to study the solar system. In this conversation, Dr. Green talks about some of the many planetary science missions he has been involved in, including the Saturn’s Cassini mission, Pluto’s New Horizons, numerous spacecraft to the Moon and Mars, and more. He reminds us how interconnected we are as a space science community and the value of communication and collaboration with collogues across the world. He looks forward to the new technological innovations that will revolutionize solar system exploration and the lessons we can take away from our better-than-ever understanding of the solar system.

This episode was produced and mixed by Shane M Hanlon. Special thanks to Jordana Schmierer for production assistance. 


Shane Hanlon:              Welcome to the American Geophysical Union’s podcast…

Nanci Bompey:             Wait wait wait, why aren’t we doing a cold open?

Shane Hanlon:              Well, we’re doing something a little different today. We have an episode inside an episode. It’s kind of Third Pod adjacent.

Nanci Bompey:             [crosstalk]

Shane Hanlon:              [crosstalk] I’m Shane Hanlon

Nanci Bompey:             And I’m Nanci Bompey.

Shane Hanlon:              And this is Third Pod from the Sun.

Nanci Bompey:             OK, time for me to ask you a question.

Shane Hanlon:              Maybe we should’ve done this in the beginning.

Nanci Bompey:             What’re we doing?

Shane Hanlon:              Sure. So, in addition to Third Pod, we at AGU have all types of different ways to tell stories, from our news magazine Eos, to our video interviews, to a boatload of audio interviews with members we’ve been collecting. So, we’re launching a new initiative where we share some of those stories, or at least parts of them, and we’re commandeering Third Pod in between our normal podcast episodes.

Nanci Bompey:             OK, I’m down.


Shane Hanlon:              I’m glad to hear we have your blessing. So this is the first one, there will be more of these, but, this is not a replacement, you and I will still be here at least every other week.

Nanci Bompey:             So plenty of regular Third Pod. But I like this idea, though. It’s more…scientists telling their own stories. And that’s the whole idea, right?

Shane Hanlon:              I’m stoked.

Nanci Bompey:             More science!

Shane Hanlon:              You ready for the first episode?

Nanci Bompey:             Let’s do it.

Shane Hanlon:              For our first episode, we have a very special guest, who was interviewed by AGU’s own Kimberly Cartier at our annual meeting as part of the AGU Narratives project. We set out to record stories from scientists to celebrate AGU’s Centennial as an opportunity to reflect on the past 100 years of Earth and space science and welcome all the possibilities that the next century will bring.

Jim Green:                    I’m Jim Green. I’m the NASA chief scientist. So I work at NASA headquarters. Just started that. That’s a new job in the last several months.

Kimberly C.:                 But you’ve been at NASA for quite awhile I hear.

Jim Green:                    Yeah, 38 years. Yeah, that’s a long time.

Jim Green:                    I ended up at Marshall Space Flight Center as a civil servant. Started there.

Kimberly C.:                 And what were you doing at Marshall?

Jim Green:                    Well, I was a member of the magnetospheric branch, and they were starting a group. So I really liked the idea of going into an organization that was just building, and I had an opportunity to be part of that.

Jim Green:                    So I worked on several spacecraft while I was there. Not only did I continue to work on the Voyager, but I also worked on Dynamics Explorer in a new area, very low energy plasma. Okay. The main area was the plasmasphere. Now the plasmasphere is an area that’s evaporated ionosphere, if you will, that are trapped on closed magnetic field lines. And it goes around the earth. And it exists in the same place that the Van Allen radiation belts do, which are very high energy particles. So it’s a completely different particle regime.

Jim Green:                    So not much was known about the plasmasphere, not much about dynamics, and so it was really easy to just publish about. Anything in that area was new.

Kimberly C.:                 Everything was new. Everything was interesting.

Jim Green:                    So that is so important. When you get involved in a mission that’s new and unique, and I’ve done that now several times in my career. In fact, the last one was Image, which was a magnetospheric imager. In fact, the last year before I went down to NASA headquarters, I had published 12 papers.

Jim Green:                    And I’ve got into science management. I was a branch chief at Goddard Space Flight Center, and then a division chief, and then went down to NASA headquarters and was the Division Chief for Planetary Science for quite a few years.

Jim Green                     We launched a tremendous number of spacecraft over those 12 years. To me, it was a tremendously satisfying career. It was a golden age of planetary science that I was involved in. So, I mean, I started when where we just getting the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter into orbit at Mars. New Horizons had launched a few months earlier. I was involved in launching Dawn and Phoenix and a whole series of missions from then on. LADEE to the moon, and MESSENGER was just getting fly-bys by Venus, and then getting into orbit at Mercury. And then Cassini was doing fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And of course, during that time period I was involved in quite a few selections, Juno-

Kimberly C.:                 Juno.

Jim Green:                    OSIRIS-REx, InSight, LADEE, GRAIL, and there’s a number more. So it’s just been, just was a tremendous opportunity for me to really branch out and learn much more about our solar system.

Kimberly C.:                 Now, we’re almost out of time, but if you had to say one thing that you really hope that society and the public takes out of from your experience in NASA, if you had to give one message back to them and look for the future, what would you say?

Jim Green:                    So planetary science is really a critical science for us as humans. I’m really serious about that. The more we study planets like Venus and Mars, the more we recognize that what’s happened on Venus can happen on earth. What’s happened at Mars can happen on earth. We’re moving through a period of understanding these fabulous planets, and how they relate to the evolution and life here on earth.

Shane Hanlon:              I gotta say, as someone working at an Earth and space science society who has a reputation of not always appreciating the “space” side of that equation, I love this idea of studying other worlds to learn more about our own and I wanna Thank Jim for sharing his story with us.

Special thanks also to Kimberly Cartier for conducting the interview.

If you like what you’ve heard, stay tuned for more episodes tucked in amongst your regular Third Pod episodes.

From this scientist in the studio, to all of you out there in the world, thanks for listening to our stories.




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