This story actually cropped up last week, but a more recent development brought it back to my attention in a rather pleasant fashion. If you’re looking for a new line of work that actually pays a hefty salary, how about a job with NASA as their Planetary Protection Officer? Unfortunately it doesn’t come with any sort of reverse engineered spacecraft recovered from Roswell of the type you’d see Will Smith tooling around in. What you’re really defending Earth from are foreign microbes. And perhaps just as importantly, defending the rest of the universe from our own bacteria and nasty microorganisms. (Business Insider)
While many space agencies hire planetary protection officers, they’re often shared or part-time roles.
In fact, only two such full-time roles exist in the world: one at NASA and the other at the European Space Agency.
That’s according to Catharine Conley, NASA’s only planetary protection officer since 2014. Business Insider interviewed Conley most recently in March.
“This new job ad is a result of relocating the position I currently hold to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which is an independent technical authority within NASA,” Conley told Business Insider in an email on Tuesday. (She did not say whether she planned to reapply for the position, which is held for at least three years but may be extended to five years.)
We’re supposed to be scrubbing all of our spacecraft carefully to make sure we don’t land any Earth-based microbes on other worlds. That’s one of the primary reasons NASA crashed the Galileo probe into Jupiter in an effort to prevent contamination of one of the planet’s moons which might have water under the surface and therefore life. (No comment on how it might affect any life floating around in Jupiter’s atmosphere, a possibility which has been considered before.)
Battling microbial migration in the other direction is quite a bit more tricky, if not impossible. Cleansing returning spacecraft is challenging at best and the fact that stuff was found growing on the outside of the International Space Station is a reminder that space may very well be lousy with living organisms. Going a bit deeper, if you believe in the concept of panspermia the entire fight is pointless because there’s an endless shower of microbial alien life raining down on our planet all the time anyway.
Still, a job is a job and this pays well into the six figure range. Surely somebody will come along to take it. And in short order NASA had one of their first applicants. The cool part is that he’s only nine years old so he’ll have plenty of time to learn on the job. Plus, he’s really good at video games and seriously wants to battle some aliens. (Fox News)
A 9-year-old boy answered a call from NASA to protect Earth from aliens – and got an encouraging response to his job application.
“My name is Jack Davis and I would like to apply for the planetary protection officer job,” the fourth-grader wrote in a letter. “I may be nine but think I would be fit for the job. One of the reasons is my sister says I am an alien also I have seen almost all the space and alien movies I can see.”…
Jack received a letter from Dr. James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division, saying the officer position was “very important work.”
“We are always looking for bright future scientists and engineers to help us, so I hope you will study hard and do well in school. We hope to see you here at NASA one of these days!” Green’s letter says.
He also got a call from NASA’s planetary research director, Jonathan Rall, to congratulate him on his interest.
Sure, this might be a relatively silly story which isn’t exactly going to shake up the world of politics and governmental affairs. But it made me feel better for a little while and I hope it does the same for you.