From space psychologist to chief sniffer, there are thousands of positions at NASA designed to ensure missions run smoothly. The most important-sounding title may be "Planetary Protection Officer," and according to Business Insider, the space agency is looking for a qualified person to fill the role.
The PPO—a position that has been around for decades—is responsible for not only protecting humanity from alien contamination, but also for making sure planetary or lunar missions don't leave behind any materials that could harm other planets. The job posting reads:
"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."
Candidates must have at least a year's experience in a high-level government job, extensive knowledge of planetary protection, and an advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics. The chosen applicant will receive a salary between $124,406 to $187,000, plus benefits, and hold the role for three years.
The job of planetary protection officer was created in light of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The international agreement stipulates that the potential for contamination from Earth on interplanetary missions should be limited to a one-in-10,000 chance. That’s why the Curiosity rover was forbidden from collecting water on Mars even though a sample would be invaluable to scientists.
NASA states the PPO will be required to travel to ensure space agencies around the world are complying with international space laws. They will also be instrumental in preparing vessels and equipment for any future missions to Mars. "The focus of planetary protection is to make sure … the next robotic mission to Mars doesn't bring something along that might cause problems later,” the current PPO, Catharine Conley, told Mental Floss last year.
The posting went up last month on USAJobs.gov. Interested job seekers have until August 14 to apply.
[h/t Business Insider]