When NASA’s job description for the “planetary protection officer” position went viral last week, 9-year-old Jack Davis threw his space helmet into the ring. The self-described “Guardian of the Galaxy” may not have gone to space camp (or high school) but, according to his handwritten cover letter, his sister thinks he’s an alien—so he’s got that going for him.
“I have seen almost all the space movies and alien movies I can see. I have also seen the show Marvel Agents of Shield and hope to see the movie Men in Black,” Davis wrote. “I am young, so I can learn to think like an alien.”
Unfortunately, the position involves a little more experience in microbiology than Davis figured. NASA’s planetary science director Jim Green graciously responded to the space-loving fourth grader with a more complete job description. Briefly, the planetary protection officer’s role is mostly to protect alien worlds from human microbes and to protect earth from alien microbes brought back from space (which would technically count as alien life, but not the kind Davis was thinking of). Plus, there’s way less dancing involved than Will Smith suggests in MIB.
“Although the Planetary Protection Officer position may not be in real-life what the title conjures up, it does play an important role in promoting the responsible exploration of our solar system by preventing microbial contamination of other planets and our own,” NASA added in a statement. But with the annual salary of $187,000 a year, the planetary protection officer gig is still a pretty exciting opportunity for qualified adults. And meanwhile, Davis has learned a lesson that some adults in the job still haven’t—a thoughtful rejection letter is far better than no letter at all.