NASA has announced the creation of a new position within the space agency titled "Planetary Protection Officer" (PPO), and is currently looking for candidates suitably qualified to protect the Earth — and other planets — from possible biological contamination. The salary for this singular position will be between $124,406 to $187,000 per year, with the successful applicant being responsible for preventing the transmission of potential contamination to and from Earth by astronauts and space probes during their expeditions.
"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," according to the job posting on the U.S. government’s official job-posting site, USAJOBS.
The three-year contract comes with a security clearance of "Secret", and requires a broad range of experience, including "advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection, its requirements and mission categories"; "demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance"; and "demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions". Degrees in physical science, engineering, mathematics or equivalent experience is also required, and the position is only open to U.S. citizens or nationals.
Aside from the issue of the containment of potential lifeforms that are being intentionally or inadvertently returned to Earth on future space probes, NASA is also concerned about contaminating potential biospheres that might exist elsewhere in the solar system, such as on Enceladus and Titan. Toward that end, NASA will be crashing the Cassini space probe into Saturn’s atmosphere this September, to avoid the possibility of contaminating any lifeforms that might be present on Saturn’s moons.