Just two more weeks to apply for an out-of-this-world job: Nasa is seeking a “planetary protection officer.” Think public health on a galactic level. Spacecraft land on planets, but they rarely take their shoes off upon returning home. Similarly, as humans set foot on lunar and other surfaces, what might they carry on those moon boots that will forever contaminate new worlds?
In 1967, the United Nations Outer Space Treaty stipulated that nations take heed of contamination, but the law applied only to countries; at the time, COMSAT was just forming, nor were private space enterprises such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Planetary Resources, Inc, and SpaceX yet anticipated.
Nasa is so careful about contamination, according to current PPO Dr. Catharine Conley, the agency learned a lesson on 21 September 2003 when Galileo, first spacecraft to visit an asteroid (two, actually: Isa and Gaspra), observer of Venus, explorer of Jupiter, where it discovered the saltwater ocean on Europa and volcanic activity on Io, and a magnetic field on Ganymede, plummeted into Jupiter’s atmosphere rather than crash into Europa. It is there one might find life. Cassini, currently orbiting Saturn, will be similarly decommissioned.
If you become the successful applicant for HQ17S0010, as PPO it may be your responsibility to update the Outer Space Treaty? What will you do to protect interplanetary public health?
Galileo: End of Mission Status. https://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/galileo_final.html.
Weinzierl, Matthew and Angela Acocella: “Blue Origin, NASA, and New Space” Harvard Business School, HBS Case Collection, 2016. http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=50708
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License