Here’s a job title you can dazzle people with at boring dinner parties: Planetary Protection Officer.
NASA is looking for someone to prevent germs from being exchanged between Earth and the Moons, comets, asteroids, and planets in our Solar System during space missions.
“Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration,” the job listing says.
The American space agency has strict policies to ensure that “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” are protected from contamination.
The US, along with another 106 countries, signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. The treaty outlines a series of international agreements, such as promising not to send weapons of mass destruction into Earth’s orbit, or at any space stations or planets, plus avoiding contamination of space and celestial bodies.
All space missions are required to have fewer than one in 10,000 chances of spoiling foreign territory. It’s an important concern, considering that NASA is planning missions to Mars with human astronauts and sending probes to Europa – both places where scientists believe there are chances of life.
The qualifications required for the job are a little unclear – it only asks candidates to possess a “broad engineering expertise” and “advanced knowledge of planetary protection.” It is aimed at people recognized as experts in their fields who have been in a position comparable to Uncle Sam's GS-15 level – the highest pay grade class earning at least $103,672 (£78,400) per annum – for at least a year.
NASA’s latest job offering isn’t bad pay either, offering up to $187,000 (£141,400). The contract will be for three years, with a chance to extend it to five years. The application is, sadly, only open to US citizens and US nationals. ®