Wait, NASA is looking for a new “planetary protection officer”? Should someone tell Carol Danvers to start updating her résumé?
Hold on, now. Despite the news media losing its collective mind about the possibility this week, the government space agency is not looking for a replacement exo-threat neutralizer, even after Bucky abdicated his “man on the wall” position. In fact, the new job isn’t new at all, and it’s not for OUR protection.
The idea was first brought up officially way back in 1956, and the National Academy of Sciences passed a resolution two years later that to avoid “forward contamination,” all future planetary probes should be sterilized before being shot off to their destinations.
Sort of like a microbial Prime Directive. Don’t mess with the locals by showing up with our own troublemakers. It makes things better on our end, too, because it’s a lot easier to confirm that we’ve actually FOUND alien life if we don’t have to worry about discerning it from earthly stuff.
Okay, yes, there is a concern of “backward contamination,” too, as SETI’s Seth Shostak told Gizmodo (who were, admirably, one of the few to call out the other news sites on their nonsense). Any kind of sample return mission to Mars or an asteroid would need to be super careful about not bringing home the Andromeda Strain — though maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as we think.
Still, it’s not like NASA is going to pay you $187,000 a year to be Captain Marvel or the Winter Solider. The successful applicant will end up like a much more domestic superhero.