Earth from the Moon
August 3, 2017

NASA seeking Planetary Protection Officer – no tinfoil hat required!

If you’ve ever wanted to safeguard the Earth from the threat of the alien menace, or ensure that humanity doesn’t proliferate throughout the galaxy carelessly contaminating everything in comes in contact with – all while making a six-figure salary – NASA has the perfect job for you!

As reported by CNET, BBC News and countless other online news outlets, the US space agency recently posted a job seeking someone for the position of Planetary Protection Officer – a job that would look great on anyone’s resume and come with an annual salary of up to $187,000.

Obviously, you’re interested in the position – otherwise, you wouldn’t still be reading – but you might be asking yourself, exactly what does a Planetary Protection Officer do? Sadly, it doesn’t entail traveling to other worlds fighting evil alongside a talking raccoon and a living tree. The

“Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration,” the job ad explained. In other words, a Planetary Protection Officer will work to ensure that no Earth-based organisms are accidentally left behind to contaminate other worlds and that no potentially-harmful alien life hitches a ride back to our planet onboard manned or unmanned spacecraft.

Candidates need to know that they will have to help plan and coordinate various activities that are related to planetary protection needs, including ensuring that robotic and human spaceflight missions comply with existing regulations. The position is a temporary, three-year appointment (with the possibility of a two-year extension) and pays between $124,406 and $187,000.

Job seems to be good for a laugh-- but it's actually serious business

Naturally, the unusual nature of the posting has led to several jokes at NASA’s expense, such as CNET joking that one of the main goals of the officer will be to ensure “that we don’t infect our future overlords,” and references to politicians and entrepreneurs who believe that aliens already live among us – and would be willing to give us technology if we stopped having wars.

But, as the killjoys at Time explained, the position is not only very real, but also very important. As the website explained, “Human beings have long hoped to find life in space... The problem is, discovering and recovering that life requires sending robot probes or even human beings out to explore.”

“Robots could contain trace bacteria, viruses or other biological contaminants from Earth, and a human being is nothing but one gigantic, walking contaminant,” they added. “If an earthly organism got loose in an otherwise pristine place... the contamination would make it impossible to know for sure if any organism you detected was native to the planet or a stowaway. Worse, if alien life did exist, Earth bugs could contaminate its environment and perhaps even prove to be lethal.”

So there you have it: the Planetary Protection Officer position is not a joke, and in fact, it’s very serious business. If you’re interested, applications will be accepted through August 14, although the ad warns that frequent travel (presumably you'd stay on Earth) may be required, and candidates must have a physical science, engineering, or mathematics degree, a minimum of one year of broad engineering experience, or some combination of the two.

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Image credit: NASA