Although we still haven’t found evidence of life beyond Earth, nor intelligent life, NASA is hiring a person for the position of “planetary protection officer”.
But calm down! That doesn’t mean we’re going to get our weapons ready and keep an eye on the skies in case an extraterrestrial craft shows up here. In fact, the contracted officer will lead efforts to keep our spacecraft clear of possible off-world life forms that could contaminate astronauts and even our own planet.
NASA officials further emphasize that keeping Earth clean (from extraterrestrial microbes that might arrive here in a capsule or in a sample, for example) is the highest priority, and this applies to all celestial objects that Earth probes visit.
“NASA maintains planetary protection policies applicable to all spaceflight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally transport Earth organisms and organic components to the planets or other constituents of the Solar System, and any mission that employs a spacecraft intended to return to Earth and its biosphere, with samples from extraterrestrial exploration targets. This policy is based on federal requirements, international treaties and agreements”, NASA officials said in an official statement.
The salary is exciting, ranging from $124,406 to $187,000 per year, which translates to around $12,975 per month.
It is worth remembering that this position is not new. Catharine Conley has been NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer for several years. The new position is the result of the relocation of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. Agent Catharine Conley herself will be able to apply for the new vacancy.
Protecting Earth against possible extraterrestrial microbial invaders is extremely important, especially with regard to future space exploration work – from robotic probes that will bring samples from other worlds, such as Europa, the moon Jupiter, to manned missions to Mars, for example.
Planetary protection plans have given strength to debates that defend the facilitation and cheapness of space exploration missions, with the argument that any effort to protect Earth against possible alien microbes could significantly slow down and make future missions more expensive.
Other scientists defend NASA’s initiative, as any form of extraterrestrial life could be highly harmful to terrestrial life.