18 Aug 2017

NASA's Planetary Protection Officer

By Paula Johanson

There's been a new job posting at NASA, for a Planetary Protection Officer.

Sounds like something from the film Men In Black, doesn't it? But for NASA, planetary protection isn't so much about people resisting invasion by giant space bugs. It's about tiny germs.

NASA needs to avoid "organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration." Policies for planetary protection apply to all space flight missions, whether they might carry Earth microbes or bring back microbes in samples from comets and asteroids. The posting lasts three to five years before someone else will be hired.

"It is not a new post," wrote reporter Andy Hayes for Sky News. Click here to read his article. He went on to add:
The current holder, Catharine Conley, was presented with a pair of sunglasses on her first day in the job back in 2006 - bringing to mind Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black.

Dr Conley told the New York Times in 2015 that she was keen to keep Mars from becoming contaminated by anything from Earth.

"If we're going to look for life on Mars, it would be really kind of lame to bring Earth life and find that instead," Dr Conley said.

"So far, Mars is still pretty clean."

While most of the people applying for the position already work at NASA in some capacity, one of the first applicants was a civilian. Nine-year-old Jack Davis sent his letter of application, and it was well-received. The director of NASA's planetary science division, Dr James L. Green, wrote him an encouraging reply and you can read both letters at this link.

No comments: