NASA is currently looking for a planetary protection officer whose duties will include protecting the planets of the solar system, including Earth, against foreign contamination and a possible “alien superbug” invasion. The job duties include the oversight and execution of NASA’s planetary protection policies, as well as advising senior NASA officials on the feasibility of preventing planetary contamination, given the parameters of each proposed space exploration mission. The compensation package includes an annual salary of $124,406 to $187,000.
Successful applicants will have an advanced knowledge of planetary protection requirements, have previous experience in planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space missions of “national significance,” and have a degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics that included 24 semester hours in physical science and/or related engineering science such as mechanics, dynamics, properties of materials, and electronics.
Because this position is part of NASA’s efforts to fulfill international law regarding prevention of planetary contamination, applicants should have a demonstrated capacity for diplomacy and be willing to travel. The job will obviously include making sure that planetary protection procedures are followed every time an unmanned space probe is approved, assembled and sent into space.
The need to fill this position has been criticized by the supporters of manned space missions going into deep space, however. The National Institute of Health estimates that microorganisms make up between 1 and 3 percent of the mass of the human body. Most of these microorganisms serve critical functions such as aiding with digestion of food, so it would naturally be detrimental to any manned mission to eliminate them due to concerns about planetary contamination.
On the flip side, it makes sense to avoid contaminating a site at which important science projects will be conducted. Scientists will do their best to control or eliminate the presence of unknown or unpredictable variables when they are conducting an experiment. If life is found on Mars, will that life be native to Mars, or something that piggybacked on one of the many probes that were sent to Mars? A planetary protection officer should theoretically be able to plan for the presence of humans and the microorganisms they carry when NASA is ready to send humans to Mars.
If you feel ready to help NASA with this or any other aspect of preparing for the future of space exploration and possibly make six figures while doing it, be sure to dust off both your resume and your qualifications because the competition can be fierce for any given position. For more information about this and other job opportunities at NASA, be sure to check out NASA’s career page.