Every kid dreams of becoming an astronaut, but a much cooler position recently opened up at NASA. The agency is looking for a planetary protection officer (PPO), someone who will be in charge of defending the Earth from alien contamination, and who will prevent us from contaminating other worlds we explore.
It Pays a Six-Figure Salary
As if being able to tell people that you’re the person who defends the earth from aliens was not good enough, the title also comes with a six-figure salary that could go from US$124,406 to US$187,000 a year, plus benefits.
The position is extremely rare as only two full-time planetary protection officers exist in the world: one works at NASA, and one works at the European Space Agency. The gig involves advising Safety Mission Assurance officials and ensuring compliance in spaceflight missions.
Thinking of applying? You’d better have an outstanding resume to stand a chance. Qualified candidates will need an advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics, have at least one year of experience as a top-level civilian government employee, a willingness to travel, and “demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions,” among other things.
According to Business Insider, the position was created after the U.S. ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 in order to minimize the risk of future space missions contaminating alien worlds.
Catharine Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer since 2014, told Scientific American that returning spacecraft are decontaminated and that humans should not disrupt the workings of outer space.
She further added that in the course of her work she has had to deal with some complex questions. She stated:
“Will the humans be alive by the time they get to Mars? If they die on Mars, are they then contaminating the surface?”
Even though this job sounds extremely cool, Conley has previously stated that it mostly involves establishing protocols and procedures to reduce contamination risks, and that a typical week involves a lot of emails as well as reading studies and proposals.
Those who believe they have what it takes to be Earth’s next planetary protection officer can apply until August 14. The position is held for at least three years, and can be extended to five.
A 9-Year-Old Applied, and NASA Replied
After news of the position started circulating the web, a brave 9-year-old boy named Jack decided to apply for the position. His heartwarming application states that his sister considers him to be an alien, and that since he is young he has time to learn to think like an alien. The fourth grader also boasted that he is great at video games.
Even though the 9-year-old boy does not yet have the required skills, NASA got back to him. Its director of planetary research called Jack to congratulate him on his interest in the position, and NASA’s planetary science director even wrote back, advising him to study hard and do well in school so that one day he would be working at NASA.
As previously covered here, NASA is preparing to test its planetary defense system on an oncoming asteroid.