What does NASA know?

NASA has made headlines this week for announcing a new opening on its staff that's tailor-made for the beginning of a thrilling science fiction blockbuster. Announcing this week that it is looking to hire a well-paid Planetary Protection Officer, NASA says the role would be focused on "the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration." The job listing is available for anybody to see at USAJOBS, and the qualifications are, well, demanding. Technical qualifications include, "Advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection, its requirements and mission categories." All applicants are required to have significant work experience and educational achievement, which may be reasonable considering the mighty responsibility of planet protection.

The role will be tasked with protecting the earth from undesired extraterrestrial life returning to the atmosphere alongside space missions, and conversely, that space missions originating on earth will not contaminate any other planets. It appears there is currently only one other role quite like it in the world. The European Space Agency employs a similar professional tasked with similar responsibilities.

The salary for the role is quite generous, between $124,406 and $187,000 per year. In addition to the unique job title, the role would be special for its ability to plug into a wide variety of space missions. Many specialists will only work on one mission at a time, but this role has the added benefit of being able to touch multiple missions with its important work of "planetary protection." NASA is known for its collaboration with the American private sector and the public sectors of other countries, and this staff person would likely be enmeshed in a network of people looking to learn more about the universe. This would be the person responsible for making sure NASA doesn't launch too much of Earth's atmosphere to contaminate the farthest reaches of the universe simultaneously.

While the job description notes that "frequent travel may be required," for now, all of that travel will probably be limited to planet Earth.

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