The recent announcement that NASA is in need of a Planetary Protection Officer garnered a lot of excitement from the public, as well as comparisons to many sci-fi movie heroes. From the title, it seemed that there might be a need for a real-life leader of the “Men in Black.” And while this isn’t exactly the case, 9-year-old Jack Davis decided he’s up for the task of protecting Earth.

A boy and his intergalactic dreams

NASA took to Twitter to mention that a fourth grader from New Jersey had applied for the job.

The tweet, which is linked to NASA’s official blog, had Davis’ application letter in it which his cited credentials included his skill at video games, his sister describing him as an alien, and his self-proclaimed membership as a “Guardian of the Galaxy.”

And while Twitter was in hysterics and the thread amassed with “Aaawwws” and whatnot, NASA responded to the boy and took the application seriously, complete with a formal letter and a phone call from NASA’s Planetary Research Director, Jonathan Rall, to boot.


The letter from NASA, which was penned by James Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, congratulated Davis for his interested in the position. “Our Planetary Protection Officer position is really cool and is very important work,” Dr. Green wrote. “We are always looking for bright future scientists and engineers to help us, so I hope you will study hard and do well in school. We hope to see you here at NASA one of these days!”

Planetary Protection Officer: role and tasks

The duties of the planetary protection officer, or PPO, involve ensuring that the humans who go to space do not contaminate other planets and moons.

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The job also involves ensuring that alien matter intentionally or unintentionally brought by spacecraft from space missions does not infect Earth. The role is super exclusive, with there being only two full-time like roles in the world — one with NASA and the other with the European Space Agency.

NASA’s current PPO is Catharine Conley and has held the position since 2006. She is the sixth planetary protection officer the agency has ever hired and noted that the position has "never had this kind of visibility."

"Space exploration and returning samples to Earth is a volunteer activity – taxpayers pay for it," Conley said about her job. "We don’t want to cause undue risk using those taxpayer dollars. We want to make sure that we know what’s coming back and that we keep it contained until we assure it’s not a hazard to the Earth."

The space agency could have easily dismissed the letter with a chuckle, but folks over at NASA apparently have big hearts to match their big brains, which makes the agency twice the cool.