James Green is NASA’s director of planetary science. He’s responsible for some of NASA’s most epic missions, including Curiosity (Mars) and New Horizons (Pluto). Recently, I got the chance to chat with Green about the future of space exploration.
What are you working on now?
J.G.: The whole planetary fleet is in my organization, so we’re working on a lot at the moment. We just flew by Pluto with New Horizons. We’ve been working on Cassini (Saturn), Messenger (Mercury), Dawn (Ceres), the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (moon) and all the orbiters around Mars.
What can we expect to see from NASA in the future?
J.G.: More launches to Mars and asteroids. InSight (Mars) launches in March 2016, and OSIRIS-Rex (asteroids) in September. We will be inserting the spacecraft Juno into orbit around Jupiter in July, and in September we will be changing the Cassini orbit so it will go between the innermost ring and cloud tops. A rover called Mars 2020 will launch in 2020, and we begin the Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) Mission several years later.
Speaking of Mars, when will we see a human expedition visit the red planet?
J.G.: Sometime in the 2030s or early 2040s. The astronauts who will set foot on Mars are alive today.
What is something surprising about our galaxy?
J.G.: We now know there are more planets (at least 100 billion) in the Milky Way galaxy than there are stars.
What advice would you give to readers who are interested in working for NASA one day?
J.G.: Study hard. Being very good in math and science are indeed important, but having determination to overcome a challenge is critical.