Have you heard that NASA is looking for a new Planetary Protection Officer?
NASA in addition to studying Earth and distant planets, also studies infectious diseases and medical treatments. Ensuring that food, water and vehicles are safe. But protecting Earth and other planets from contamination, that’s a rather different job.
Last month, NASA announced that it was looking for a new person for the position.
The job will be to ensure that future missions to other planets don’t contaminate them with microbes that have come along for the ride.
And that return missions don’t bring extra-terrestrial microbes back to Earth.
Since the beginning of the Space Age, agencies have understood that all missions carried with them the risk of contamination. Aside from the possibility that missions might transport Earth microbes to foreign planets, it was also understood that missions returning from space could bring potentially harmful organisms back to Earth.
That’s the reason why the Office of Planetary Protection was established to ensure that these risks were lowered using proper safety protocols.
The office and its practices are also consistent with NASA’s internal policies.
For a long time, these policies have been followed to ensure that missions to the Moon, Mars and the Outer Solar System did not threaten these extra-terrestrial environments. For example, after eight years studying Jupiter and its largest moons, the Gallileo probe was deliberately crashed into Jupiter’s atmosphere to make sure that none of its moons were contaminated by Earth-based microbes.
The same will be applied to the Juno mission, which is currently in orbit around Jupiter. This will take place in July of 2018. That’s when the craft will burn up to avoid contaminating the Jovian moons of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
The position is held for three years and is compensated to the tune of $124,406 to $187,000 per year.
To be fair, the position of a Planetary Protection Officer is not unique to NASA. The European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) and other space agencies have similar positions. However, it is only within NASA and the ESA that it is considered to be a full-time job.
If we intend to expand our horizons and explore increasingly exotic environments in the future. It makes sense that this job becomes more important. If you think you’ve got what it takes, and don’t mind a large salary, don’t forget to apply soon!