In this week’s edition of strange and awesome news, it looks like NASA is hiring. This isn’t just any job, they are looking for what they call a new Planetary Protection Officer. Apparently, they already had someone doing this job: her name is Catharine A. Conley. But she’s leaving the position and now NASA is looking for a replacement.
In case you’re thinking of applying, we’ll give you a few details about the job. You might want to take a seat first, though, because this is about as science-fictiony as it gets. Here’s a little excerpt from the job description (which, by the way, is available online for viewing): “The Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) is responsible for the leadership of NASA’s planetary protection capability.”
This involves the “maintenance of planetary protection policies and oversight of their implementation by NASA’s space flight missions.” The PPO will also “support the Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) Technical Authority and serve as a principal advisory resource for the Chief, SMA and other senior officials on matters pertaining to planetary protection.”
Of course, the best part comes next: “The PPO is the Agency’s focal point for interactions with external organizations on matters related to planetary protection.” That is a lot of responsibility.
Essentially the person who takes on this position will be in charge of managing two things that NASA wants to ensure in forthcoming space exploration and research missions.
The first is to protect Earth from alien contamination and the second is to protect alien planets from Earthly contamination. In other words, NASA doesn’t want probes or robots to ruin our chance of studying potential ecosystems.
They also don’t want to unknowingly bring back something that could potentially mess up our own ecosystem in a way that we’re not prepared for. Let your minds wander for a second with us and consider that this could mean aliens.
Think about it, if aliens were to make an appearance on Earth who are we going to rely on for their expertise? They might not be able to actually fight them off but they’ll probably understand them better than anyone else.
Seriously, this person will have the grit of Will Smith in ‘Independence Day,’ the understanding of Amy Adams in ‘Arrival,’ and the empathy of Henry Thomas from ‘E.T’ all rolled into one unstoppable force.
The crucial responsibility of first-contact will rest entirely on this person’s shoulder. That’s a mighty heavy burden to carry. They’d have to manage the relations with the extra-terrestrial life and make sure that they develop trust.
To put it into a perspective that we can understand, this person will have to be as diplomatic as Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and as tough as Benjamin Sisko in ‘Star Trek: Deep Space 9’.
It would probably be beneficial if they had the instinct and resilience of Ellen Ripley in ‘Alien.’ Now that’s all science fictional and very fun, we’ll admit. Here’s some truth that is almost equally unbelievable: NASA will pay this person up to $187,000 plus benefits.
Unfortunately, being a movie buff is not an actual requirement for the positions. In fact, the candidate has to possess some pretty impressive qualities for NASA to select them, but we’re not really surprised by that.
NASA is looking for someone who has a background in physical science, engineering, or mathematics. The job description also highlights three additional qualifications that the perfect candidate will possess.
According to the description, the candidate should have: 1) a deep understanding of the planetary protection responsibilities; and 2) a stellar record in “space programs of national significance.”
And, finally, 3) A degree of diplomacy “that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.” This last one will definitely be useful when aliens invade us and we need someone to negotiate.
That doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? If you think you have what it takes, then apply now because this is seriously the chance of a lifetime. We’re not kidding. Only two of these full-time roles exist in the world: one at NASA and the other at the European Space Agency.
In an interview with Business Insider in March, Conley has said, “This new job ad is a result of relocating the position I currently hold to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which is an independent technical authority within NASA.”
It’s unclear whether she’s planning on reapplying for the position, but it’s worth a shot. The job reportedly comes with a “secret” security clearance. NASA is accepting applications at USAJobs.gov from July 13 through to August 14th