Everyone talking about NASA hiring someone to protect Earth against aliens needs to pump the brakes, because the main task of their Planetary Protection Officer position is something that makes a whole lot more sense considering the state of this planet — it’s to protect every other planet from Earth.
You can check out the whole posting on USAJOBS, but here’s the key part of the job description: “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.” That has nothing to do with protecting Earth from aliens! I hope a lot of folks this week weren’t planning on sending in an application, because I’ve been told actually reading job descriptions is key to getting hired.
The description pretty clearly states that the point of the position is to prevent Earth-based biological organisms — microbes, in particular — from hitching a ride to other planets or moons on manned flights, probes, or rovers. That would be bad for research — while most of the bodies that can be physically explored don’t have much in the way of ecosystems to disrupt, carrying over Earth-based organisms could result in scientists thinking they’ve found extraterrestrial life when they haven’t. It’s also vital to make sure other bodies remain as untainted as possible, so as to ensure research about what they might have looked like in the past can be as accurate as possible.
That is literally the opposite of protecting Earth from aliens, which is what a ton of outlets ran with this week. While making sure extraterrestrial microbes don’t get back to Earth on accident could, perhaps, fall under the purview of the Planetary Protection Officer, it’s most certainly not what the candidate is being hired to do.
Anyway, if you have advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection, have experience in administrating high-level space programs, and are capable of reading a job description, you can apply for the position now.