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Your childhood video game fantasy is now a real-life, six-figure salary job

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Gary Ogden
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“Against the worst scum of the universe”

Little snippet from the hip-hop classic, Men in Black, by Will Smith, there. He’s talking about how him and his mates – ostensibly Tommy Lee Jones – look after the planet by killing all the bad aliens that are trying to take over the world. It’s up to a secret agency to monitor all the extraterrestrial activity, ensuring we don’t all become a race of dead-eyed zombies infected with alien worms.

Yeah, good one, that’ll never happen, it’s a film, fake news, etc – you may think, whilst sitting there in your tin foil hat. But actually, NASA have an official job that pretty much does exactly that – take the position and you’ll be in charge of protecting earth against extraterrestrial contamination (beating up aliens, basically).

The role is called ‘planetary protection officer’ and will involve making sure that humans travelling to space do not contaminate planets and moons with Earth stuff, like Wrigleys and Durex wrappers; and also stopping outer space stuff from damaging our planet, like Xenomorph chewing gum and Predator condoms. For your trouble, you’ll be paid a nice six-figure packet, too: up to £141,000. Imagine getting paid all that money just to punch aliens all day.

The job post reads:

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.

Here you are, looking for some aliens to fight

It won’t be easy sailing, no siree – according to The Independent, “A space mission must have less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world, including making sure a robot or probe that is travelling past or photographing a planet and does not cause harm.” So you’ve gotta be on the ball, here – no playing solitaire while an astronaut chucks a load of Chewits wrappers out the window of the spaceship – this is make-or-break stuff.

The job’s been about for a bit, ever since the US signed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which promised to “pursue studies of outer space […] and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter […]” But they’re hiring again for it now.

If you want the job – which you do, you get to punch aliens – then you’ll need a hefty rap-sheet of fancy qualifications. Including but not limited to:

  • One year's experience as a top-level civilian government employee
  • An advanced degree in physical science, engineering or mathematics
  • Advanced knowledge of planetary protection (which I guess means you’ve punched at least seven aliens before)
  • Demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions

In terms of perks, obviously you get to punch aliens, which is sick, but you’ll also get “secret security clearance”, which I think means you can skip the queue at whatever pub you want. Even the one on Mars.

(Image: Columbia Pictures)

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", PDAs, not having eczema anymore, hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the eczema thing though. @garyblogden

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