NASA has posted a new job opening for a position with extraordinary responsibility: to protect planet Earth from alien contamination.
Preventing Potential Contamination Of Extraterrestrial Worlds And Earth
The tasks of the planetary protection officer, or PPO, involve ensuring that the humans who go to space do not contaminate other planets and moons. The job also involves ensuring that alien matter intentionally or unintentionally brought by spacecraft from space missions does not infect Earth.
The successful applicant will be assigned to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance for Planetary Protection, which is concerned about preventing organic-constituent and biological contamination in space explorations.
The U.S. space agency has policies for planetary protection for space flight missions that can possibly carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to extraterrestrial worlds. The policies also apply to space missions intended to go back to Earth carrying samples from other worlds.
"When you bring samples back there's the possibility that you're bringing something alive from another planet," said former Planetary Protection Officer Michael Meyer, who is now lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
"In which case, you ought to be cautious and keep those samples contained until you can determine whether or not there's anything perhaps hazardous in those samples."
The three-year position, which can be extended to five years, was created after the United States signed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 through which it vowed to avoid harmful contamination of extraterrestrial worlds and adverse changes in the Earth's environment due to introduction of alien matter.
Planetary Protection Officer Responsibilities And Required Skills
Meyer said that his job involved making sure the spacecraft that will go somewhere else was clean enough to avoid contaminating the target world for exploration.
"The Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) is responsible for the leadership of NASA's planetary protection capability, maintenance of planetary protection policies, and oversight of their implementation by NASA's space flight missions," the job posting reads.
The job pays as much as $187,000 per year plus benefits.
Meyer pointed out the importance of diplomacy skills since the PPO is tasked to deal with other countries that also send spacecraft to Mars, Jupiter moon Europa, and other worlds. Candidates should expect frequent travel and are required to have broad engineering expertise.
Although the European Space Agency has someone with a similar role, other countries with space programs do not have an equivalent for PPO.