Want to Save the Planet from Aliens? Become a Planetary Protection Officer for NASA

August 3, 2017 – The 21st century will have job winners and losers. We know that automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will impact traditional jobs while creating new opportunities. But who would have thought of creating a new job category — alien species protection officer? It’s NASA of course.

The job is open to United States’ citizens, “or those who owe allegiance to the U.S,” and is aimed at recruiting people currently in “senior executive service positions.” The salary is not bad either, starting at $124,406 per year and rising to $187,000. Right now there is only one opening with the position at NASA headquarters in Houston, Texas. But who knows? This may become a position of responsibility within commercial space companies as they begin to capture and strip mine asteroids, or harvest Helium-3 from the Moon, or travel to, survey, and return from other bodies in the Solar System.

NASA’s initial appointment of its first Planetary Protection Officer is a three-year stint with a two-year option.

The job description states:

The Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) is responsible for the leadership of NASA’s planetary protection capability, maintenance of policies, and oversight of their implementation. 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. Primarily the PPO performs the following:

  • Leads planning and coordination of activities related to NASA mission planetary protection needs.
  • Leads independent evaluation of, and provides advice regarding, compliance by robotic and human spaceflight missions with NASA planetary protection policies, statutory requirements, and international obligations.
  • Advises the Chief, SMA and other officials regarding the merit and implications of programmatic decisions involving risks to planetary protection objectives.
  • In coordination with relevant offices, leads interactions with COSPAR, National Academies, and advisory committees on planetary protection matters.
  • Recommends and leads the preparation of new or revised NASA standards and directives in accordance with established processes and guidelines.

Among other job requirements is the ability to travel frequently. One assumes this doesn’t include traveling into space.

The real kicker, however, is the person must be “a recognized subject matter expert.” Considering that no one as of yet, other than Scully and Mulder of the X-Files, Sigourney Weaver, and Agents Jay and Kay of Men in Black have encountered space aliens in sufficient quantity to be deemed expert, I wonder just what makes someone an alien subject matter expert capable of protecting the entire planet from invasion.

Another requirement is “demonstrated skills in diplomacy” which I am sure is directed at Earth liaisons rather than those when rendezvousing with aliens. And you will be happy to know, if no one qualifies from the United States, the position could be filled by an “alien” but you’ll have to keep it secret. Note that relocation expenses are not authorized so no Martians need apply. The commute will be way too expensive.


NASA is hiring a Planetary Protection Officer. Should sci-fi characters Agent Kay and Jay from “Men In Black” apply? (Image credit: AP Photo/Melinda Sue Gordon)

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...