Dr. James Spann recently joined NOAA’s Office of Space Weather Observations (SWO) as its new Senior Scientist for Space Weather. With a distinguished career at NASA marked by significant contributions to the advancement of the field of space physics, Dr. Spann brings a wealth of expertise that will undoubtedly propel SWO to new heights.
In his new role, he leads efforts to ensure that NOAA space weather observations meet the administration’s science and operations goals. He also plans to continue his active engagement to coordinate space weather observations across both national and international agencies.
We asked him a few questions to learn more about him.
Read his official bio
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Recife, Brasil. At the age of five, my parents moved our family (me and my two younger brothers) to Brasil, where they served 33 years as missionaries—my dad was the dean of music at a baptist seminary, and my mom taught home economics at the seminary. My sister was born five years after we got to Brasil.
Going to the beach, playing soccer, raising little marmosets (monkeys) in my backyard, and traveling to the interior of the country generated some amazing memories and life-long friendships. I returned to the US at age 18 to attend college in Arkansas, where my folks were from. It was an awesome childhood in Brasil during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I would not change it for anything!!
What is your current role at NESDIS, and what are you looking forward to in this position?
My role as Senior Scientist for Space Weather in the Office of Space Weather Observations (SWO) is to help coordinate and align SWO's strategy across the space weather enterprise in close collaboration with other NOAA and NASA line offices. I will be leading efforts to ensure that NOAA's space weather observations meet science and operations goals.
In addition, I will serve as a spokesperson for SWO, representing us among the science community, and actively engaging across agencies domestically and internationally, to coordinate space weather observations.
What led you to pursue a career in government service?
I have always been drawn to solving problems and meeting the needs of others. Service is a high personal value I hold. So government service in a science arena ended up being a natural fit for me. Plus, it is a job that I enjoy explaining to others in a way that they can see the value for themselves in what we do.
What would you say are your proudest accomplishments during your career thus far?
This is a difficult question for me to answer, not because I think I have done so many great things, but because space science and working in the government is really a team effort. So it is hard to talk about a personal accomplishment.
That being said, here are five activities that I am proud of: (1) leading the effort as an instrument scientist to launch and operate an auroral imager, (2) managing the science organization of 50+ scientists at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in a way that addressed the needs of each research area, (3) leading as Principal Investigator an international US–Brasil team to build, fly, and operate a CubeSat focused on the science of space weather, (4) establishing the NASA Space Weather Program at NASA Headquarters, and (5) fostering an environment of collaboration and cooperation across Federal Agencies for space weather that resulted in a Space Weather Framework for Research-to-Operations-to-Research document and a Quad Agency Memorandum of Agreement between NOAA, NASA, NSF and DAF.
What motivates you? Who has served as an inspiration/role model in your life?
Service to others motivates me. My role models are my parents as well as a few leaders in the science community. Over the years I have observed these individuals to be fair to others, to have clarity of purpose, honesty in their science, and exercise personal humility. These are traits that I would hope I can have and can model for others.
What kind of advice would you give people aspiring to pursue a career at NOAA or in your field?
I offer three pieces of advice: (1) Prepare yourself for the future, for one never knows when an opportunity will present itself. (2) Have respect and compassion for others, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and what opinions they may have; for to ultimately be successful we must realize that we must work with other people; in the final analysis, it is all about people. (3) Be kind and compassionate to yourself—that means take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and pace yourself in life and work.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Tell us something about yourself others may not know.
When I am able, I love to hang out with my two grown children (Hannah and Ben) and three grandchildren (Lyla, Lincoln, and William). I am an avid soccer fan (I have a good collection of jerseys and the CubeSat for which I was PI, is named SPORT after my favorite soccer team in Brasil—Sport Club of Recife). I also really enjoy photography, and on occasion I relax with my classical guitar playing my own compositions. Finally, being a person of faith, I have a strong interest in the overlap of science and faith.