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Photo: NASA

Top-notch engineers who have career ambition – and who are not averse to drug testing or the responsibility of top-secret security clearance – could help save the Earth by answering a new job posting.

A “planetary protection officer” is sought by NASA in a job posting open through mid-August.

The purpose of the senior executive position is twofold: to protect Earth matter from contaminating Mars and other worlds – and vice-versa, preventing potential organic matter from other planets and moons from endangering our home planet.

“NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration,” the posting explains.

The “PPO” will be responsible for being the point-person on all space missions to ensure integrity of equipment, samples and all other material.

The posting, full-time, would be located at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The job would be assigned to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance for Planetary Protection.

The opportunities for contamination continue to grow as the exploration ambitions of NASA expand outward. For instance, the planned Mars 2020 rover set to launch in three years will require painstaking sterility: measures that include cleaning the equipment to less than 300 heat-resistant “spores” per square meter, enclosing the entire apparatus in a biobarrier, and setting a 40 parts-per-billion baseline of certain compounds even before taking off for the red planet.

Shortly after NASA announced the evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars, they made clear that human exploration teams and even rovers could not yet approach it for fear of compromising the purity of the environment. More recently, they have specified that humans themselves could bring a microbiome of fungus, microbes, and other critters, which could endanger both environments – and astronauts themselves.

The salary for the position is between $124,406 and $187,000 annually, is open only to U.S. citizens and nationals, and is a grade SL 00. The posting is open through Aug. 13.

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