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Paging Will Smith: NASA is hiring a planetary protection officer

(Photo: Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Today, in job titles that probably sound way more exciting than they actually are: The Washington Post reports that NASA is seeking a qualified applicant for a role as its new “planetary protection officer.” The job carries a six-figure salary, and, we assume, permanent dibs on every Space Invaders arcade cabinet currently operating in North America.

And while that name conjures up images of activating the Death Blossom and welcoming aliens to Earth, Will Smith-style, on paper, it sounds like it’s more about stopping humanity from fucking up every other planet in the galaxy. (It’s a planetary protection officer, after all, not an Earth protection officer.) According to interviews with the previous post-holder, Catharine Conley, much of her job centered on complying with the International Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and making sure we didn’t contaminate Mars with a bunch of our gross Earth-based pathogens. (Here are a few questions Conley was forced to consider, re: non-NASA-planned trips to Mars: “Will the humans be alive by the time they get to Mars? If they die on Mars, are they then contaminating the surface?” Fun stuff!)


A qualified applicant will have proven skills in international diplomacy, planning, and, of course, “planetary protection.” (It’s unclear whether Mass Effect save files or Defender high scores will be accepted for the latter requirement.)

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