WASHINGTON: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) last week advertised a full-time job of “planetary protection officer” who will be ensuring that humans in space do not contaminate planets and moons, as well as ensuring that alien matter does not infect Earth and it got a chunk of applications…but one of them was quite different.
One 9-year-old boy in New Jersey took the vacancy seriously. So he took a sheet of paper and an obviously well-sharpened pencil and carefully hand-wrote his application.
He wrote: “Dear NASA, My name is Jack Davis and I would like to apply for the planetary protection officer job. I may be nine but I think I would be fit for the job.”
Describing his qualifications, he wrote, his sister says he’s an alien. Jack also said he had watched the TV show “Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “almost all the space and alien movies I can” — though not yet “Men in Black.” (In Jack’s defense, the 1997 hit movie with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones came out more than a decade before he was even born.)
“I am young, so I can learn to think like an alien,” Jack wrote.
He signed off with his name and appended it with “Guardian of the Galaxy” and “Fourth Grade.”
Response from Nasa
James L. Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, wrote back to him right away.
“I hear you are a ‘Guardian of the Galaxy’ and that you’re interested in being a NASA Planetary Protection Officer,” Green wrote. “That’s great!”
He also took the time to dispel any myths about what the job entailed.
“It’s about protecting Earth from tiny microbes when we bring back samples from the Moon, asteroids and Mars. It’s also about protecting other planets and moons from our germs as we responsibly explore the Solar System.”
“At NASA, we love to teach kids about space and inspire them to be the next generation of explorers,” Green said in a statement. “Think of it as a gravity assist — a boost that may positively and forever change a person’s course in life, and our footprint in the universe.”
The job offer and its perks
The pay is a six-figure salary: as much as $187,000 (£141,000) a year plus benefits.
The job post reads: “Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.”
“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.”
The three-year position – with a chance to extend it to five years – was created after the US signed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, vowing to “pursue studies of outer space … and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter”.
Business Insider cites Catharine Conley, Nasa’s only planetary protection officer since 2014 as saying that there is only one other full-time role like it in the world at the European Space Agency. She is relocating to the agency’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.
Under the international 1967 treaty, she explained that any space mission must have less than a one in 10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world, including making sure a robot or probe that is travelling past or photographing a planet does not cause harm.
“It’s a moderate level,” Ms Conley said. “It’s not extremely careful, but it’s not extremely lax.”
What a candidate must possess?
Candidates must have at least one year’s experience as a top-level civilian government employee, and an advanced degree in physical science, engineering or mathematics. They must also have “advanced knowledge” of planetary protection, reports the Independent.
The position also requires “demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions”. The new hire will also receive “secret” security clearance.
Only US citizens and US nationals can apply.