NASA had recently sparked enthusiastic scenarios when the agency announced that they are basically waiting for a Guardian of the Galaxy to protect Earth. However, as it is often the case, the title is the only feature in this job that seems plucked from the science fiction realm. A Planetary Protection Officer sounds like a compelling career when in fact it requires 100% knowledge of interplanetary science and zero experience of fighting green aliens.
The Planetary Protection Officer Has to Make Sure Astronauts, Equipment or Samples Don’t Contaminate Foreign Planets
NASA is hunting for the ideal professional for their opening. Here’s another expression that sounds cool when in actuality it is a tedious job. One of the main jobs of a planetary protection officer is to protect potentially habitable environments from contamination with microbes brought from Earth.
The task works the other way around as well. When astronauts return with extraterrestrial samples, the officer has to make sure that the foreign material doesn’t infect humans and the Blue Planet.
John Rummel is a biology professor at East Carolina University who occupied this position twice. The first time happened between 1990 and 1993 only to return in 1998 until 2006. He offered more explanations for what this job is really up to.
From his experience, the most challenging part was to make sure astronauts understand the importance of their mission. It was not just about attaining the goal but being also aware of the impact of their success.
“From that aspect, the job was definitely worth it. But as to ‘rewards,’ those were mostly internal.”
Former Officer John Rummel Offered Insights into This Controversial NASA Position
Rummel also revealed that his job was often times in a dependency relation with the associate administrator who is in charge of the project expenses. If he didn’t receive the green light, it meant that there were no more funds to support his side projects as well.
Nonetheless, his contribution was substantial for NASA’s Mars program. It was up to the planetary protection officer to decide whether equipment such as Sojourner was sterile enough to land on other planets and investigate their environment.
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