NASA selects planetary science director as new chief scientist

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WASHINGTON — The longtime director of NASA’s planetary science division will become the agency’s next chief scientist next month, NASA announced April 10.

In a statement, NASA said that Jim Green, who has served as director of the planetary science division at NASA Headquarters since 2006, will become chief scientist May 1. He succeeds acting chief scientist Gale Allen, who is retiring from the agency after more than 30 years.

“I’m excited to have Jim take on this new role,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in the statement. “He brings a variety of scientific research experience and planetary exploration expertise to the chief scientist position that will allow him to hit the ground running with great enthusiasm and engagement.”

While Green is best known for leading NASA’s planetary science programs, his background is in space physics, earning a Ph.D. in the subject from the University of Iowa in 1979. He joined NASA in 1980, working first in the magnetospheric physics branch at Marshall Space Flight Center and later moving to the Goddard Space Flight Center, leading a space science data office there and also serving as deputy project scientist for the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) mission.

Green became planetary science division director in August 2006 and led the division through budgetary ups and downs over the last 12 years. That has included significant budget cuts earlier this decade and, more recently, increases that brought the division’s budget to more than $2.2 billion for 2018.

“This is the largest budget planetary science has ever had,” Green said of the 2018 funding for the division during an April 3 presentation at a Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group meeting. He recalled the cut of about 20 percent in the division’s budget in 2013, followed by major increases in the last few years. Now, he said, “we’re getting a very rich program.”

In his new role as chief scientist, Green will be a principal advisor to senior agency officials on the agency’s science programs and related topics. He will also represent those plans outside the agency at both the national and international level.

Gale Allen, deputy chief scientist at NASA since 2011, had been serving as acting chief scientist since late 2016. She replaced Ellen Stofan, who left the agency after three years as chief scientist. Stofan was named the next director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum April 5.

Green will be replaced as planetary science division director on an acting basis by Lori Glaze, the chief of the Planetary Geology, Geophysics and Geochemistry Laboratory at Goddard. Glaze, a former chair of the Venus Exploration Analysis Group, served as principal investigator for two recent Venus mission proposals, one that was a finalist in the latest round of the Discovery program of low-cost missions and one submitted in the ongoing New Frontiers program of medium-sized missions. NASA selected neither mission.

Speaking at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium in Maryland March 15, she lamented the lack of Venus mission selections but remained optimistic about the future, noting technology advancements that could make it possible for future Venus landers to operate on the surface for a month or more, versus just a few hours.

In her presentation, she cited a line from the film Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender.” “This is my new motto,” she said.