It's not a joke. It's not fake news. It is the role the future of humanity might one day depend upon. NASA is looking for a new Planetary Protection Officer to fill a job about to be vacated by its incumbent, Catharine A. Conley, Business Insider reports.
The gig pays up to $187,000, plus benefits, according to the job description, which is live on the internet and publicly available to read. Here's a brief excerpt, emphasis added:
The Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) is responsible for the leadership of NASA's planetary protection capability, maintenance of planetary protection policies, and oversight of their implementation by NASAs space flight missions. The PPO also supports the Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) Technical Authority and serves as a principal advisory resource for the Chief, SMA and other senior officials on matters pertaining to planetary protection. The PPO is the Agency's focal point for interactions with external organizations on matters related to planetary protection.
That's a lot, and the JD goes into more detail, but in a practical, real-world, science-fact sense, this role is responsible for managing two things NASA wants to ensure in future space explorations and research: protecting Earth from alien contamination and protecting alien planets from Earthly contamination. Basically, we don't want our probes or robots to screw up potential ecosystems worth studying unsullied, and we don't want our probes to bring back something that might screw up the Earth's ecosystems in ways we're not prepared for.
But let's get real for a second and focus on what we're all really thinking about... In an extreme, more science-fiction-y, and far more fun-to-consider hypothetical sense, this also means that if freakin' aliens were to arrive this person would become super important. In fact, the whole 7.4 billion-strong human family currently residing on this mudball we call Earth might come to rely on their expertise.
They'd be Will Smith in Independence Day, Amy Adams in Arrival, and that scrappy Henry Thomas kid from ET all rolled into one. The responsibility of first contact and managing relations with extraterrestrial life forms would fall on their shoulders, meaning they would have to be as diplomatic as Star Trek: The Next Generation's Jean-Luc Picard and as take-no-bullshit as Star Trek: Deep Space 9's Benjamin Sisko. It wouldn't hurt if they possessed the skills, fortitude, and constitution of Alien's Ellen Ripley, either.
So when it comes to the qualifications, they're not just hiring anybody here. And they don't want to have to fire them after less than two weeks on the job, so hopefully they'll pick someone halfway-useful.
In addition to the prerequisite background in physical science, engineering, or mathematics, the job description highlights three specific qualifications a great candidate should possess: 1. a deep understanding of the planetary protection responsibilities; 2. a bullet-proof record in "space programs of national significance"; and, finally, 3. a degree of diplomatic savvy "that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions."
That last one will definitely come in handy when the aliens invade. If any of this sounds like you, apply now, Ace.