Do You Have What It Takes To Be NASA’s Next Planetary Protection Officer?
The survival of life on Earth (and other parts) can rest on the shoulders of the next head of NASA’s Planetary Protection – and they are having the applications.
The job offer has provoked headlines on how the space agency is looking for a person to defend our planet against foreigners. But he is more concerned about microorganisms than the little green men.
And it is true that the role is to prevent the Earth from being contaminated with extraterrestrial material, for example from samples taken from the mission, work was also focused on preventing the pollution of Earth planets and moons that humans to explore.
Ari Shapiro from NPR talked about working with someone who knows what is needed – former planetary protection chief Michael Meyer. He is now the chief scientist of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
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Gradually, as researchers explore places that could harbor life, “when you do samples, there is a possibility that you bring something into the life of another planet,” Meyer said.
“In this case, care must be taken to maintain these samples until it can be determined whether or not they can be dangerous in these samples.”
Explain that “the same kind of work is that you have to be conservative,” because we can not know if an alien sample is dangerous or not.
In the same way, scientists look for life, which does not want to confuse an underground microbial Earth with a revolutionary discovery of life on another planet.
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That’s why Meyer has spent his time “to make sure the ship was traveling somewhere else was actually pretty clean, so you do not mind polluting the planet we’re trying to explore.”
It also highlights a number of potentially unexpected skills that are useful: diplomacy.
The planetary protection officer “is in charge of other countries also sending spacecraft to the targets of opportunity like Mars and [the moon of Jupiter] Europe.” The European Space Agency also has a similar role, but other countries with space programs do not.
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“We are not in the business of telling other countries how to run their business, but we must be careful what they do because when we work with them, it is our responsibility for NASA to ensure as we explore safely,” added Meyer .
However, all missions do not require the same level of cleanliness. He explains that “planetary protection has a gradation of concerns.”
For example, sending a spacecraft to an asteroid that is not considered to have life potential requires a less conservative approach than sending a spacecraft to Mars. In places that could harbor life, Meyer said, “you have to sterilize spacecraft or sterilize instruments that can affect the region.”