In Adam Sandler’s ill-fated attempt at using nostalgia to sell movie tickets called, “Pixels,” Sandler played a normal guy that was chosen by America’s government to defend the world against an 8-bit alien invasion. The premise of the movie was simple: if an other-worldly power ever did choose to come conquer our world, it may well be up to just one person to see the threat coming and do something about it.
And now, NASA is on the market for that person, but it doesn’t seem like Adam Sandler meets the qualifications.
In a new posting on the government job board website USAJobs, NASA recently posted a new listing for a “Planetary Safety Officer.” The job may, however, be a bit less exciting than depictions of similar roles in science fiction (or how its been reported by other news outlets). Chief among the new role’s responsibilities would be “the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.” That means the gig will likely be more about keeping Earth-born microbes from infesting our outbound exploration equipment than shooting anything with space lasers.
The possibility of “infecting” extra-terrestrial locales with earth-germs isn’t something NASA takes lightly. Not only are they now recruiting for an officer to lead their efforts, they announced earlier this year that they have chosen to crash their $3.26 billion Cassini spacecraft into Saturn, rather than risk a collision with one of the planet’s moons that may potentially harbor life, once its power stores are depleted. Planned missions to return Mars soil to earth for analysis in the coming years will also highlight the need to ensure any Martian microbes we scoop up aren’t able to contaminate our world either. A breach in contamination would render the returned Martian samples useless for study at best, and for a worst case scenario, just check out the spores released by the crew featured in “Alien: Covenant.”
NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration. This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements.” The job posting reads.
The right candidate will need a fair amount of engineering experience, and must be “recognizable as a subject matter expert” in fields as varied as what constitutes a threat to planetary protection, planning and executing space missions of “national significance,” and, of course, international (and maybe even inter-planetary) diplomacy.
The job doesn’t seem to require an advanced degree, but NASA does state they their preferred candidate would hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like physical science, engineering, or mathematics.
According to NASA, the job may entail a fair amount of travel, but it can be expected that they mean here on earth. It will also require an active Secret security clearance or higher. If your application makes it past the first round, you’ll find yourself appearing before “a panel of subject matter experts for further evaluation against the NASA SL or ST Evaluation Criteria.” If you manage to impress their board, you might be on your way to becoming the world’s first official planetary protection officer.
Image courtesy of NASA