• Rose Smith

The Wondrous Idea of the Planetary Protector


Photo Source: Max Pixel

I have never doubted the possibility that aliens could be out here no matter how small in this ever-expanding universe. In fact, NASA had estimated that there are 20 billion galaxies in this universe, but new Hubble data has concluded that this estimate may be 10 times too low (NASA). There are 200 billion solar systems in the Milky Way alone (Spaceplace—NASA). While it may have taken a near-miracle to create and sustain life on Earth, it would be foolish to think that it is impossible for this miracle of chance to take place again. The idea of intelligent life (or even microbes) outside our planet has captured the minds of artists and scientists, and they have played with this notion in the form of works of art or scientific exploration. On August 2nd, 2017, NASA announced that it currently is seeking a “Planetary Protection Officer,” and it further revived my curiosity and hope (and possibly fear) that there is currently life outside of our little speck we call Earth (CNBC). The title made me wonder if we even have perhaps been in contact with life already.

NASA has recently opened up applications for the position of “Planetary Protection Officer.” Aside from being one of the coolest job titles I have ever heard, the official job description is to make sure that astronauts are able to explore other planets while preserving otherworldly ecosystems without contaminating them and allowing astronauts to return to Earth without accidentally contaminating Earth with alien life (NASA). The position is to last for 3-5 years and pays 6 figures ($124,406 to $187,000 per year) (USAJOBS). While the job description details that the job is only to protect both Earth and the rest of the universe against intergalactic cooties, the conspiracy theorist in me can only wonder if we have actually made contact with intelligent, extraterrestrial life. Part of this notion stems from the fact that part of the technical qualifications requires that one must be able to, demonstrate skills, “in diplomacy that resulted in win-win situations during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.” Such a vague description is bound to open up the imagination to alternate possibilities such as intergalactic intrigue across galaxies. NASA’s office of planetary protection does point to a more sensible answer to the diplomatic question in which it notes that one must be able to work with other planetary system specialists and be sure to uphold both NASA’s guidelines and international treaties in the process such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (NASA). Nevertheless, it does not rule out that these diplomatic missions perhaps are not just with human allies. I will not fully engage with conspiracy theories in this specific article, but it does lead one to wonder (and hope) that there is something more to this position.

Outer space is an elusive mystery to many of us. We like to imagine the possibility that we are not alone in this universe and explore that curiosity through fiction and space programs. With NASA’s announcement of the “planetary protector” job, it has only opened up my curiosity about the possibility of intelligent life outside of our planet and even makes me wonder if we have already engaged in contact already (don’t worry; conspiracy theories will be saved for another day). Nevertheless, this job serves to provide some intrigue and fun to the news of today. Perhaps first alien contact would bring countries together. If we all had to identify ourselves as citizens of Earth, in comparison to other planetary races, instead of fighting amongst each other in the name of countries or other facets of the human identity, we would see ourselves as Earthlings.

Addendum: A 9-year-old actually applied to the NASA Planetary Protection Officer position, and NASA responded with an unbelievably sweet letter and a phone call. You can read both of their letters here.

Rose Smith is the blog editor of Twenty-two Twenty-eight. When she isn’t writing about the world around her, she is often found listening to music, watching movies, and going on walks with her dogs.

You can find her on Instagram here and on Twitter here.