Planetary Protection Officer (PPO).
It seems like a pretty sweet gig, with the PPO responsible to "[lead] planning and coordination of activities related to NASA mission planetary protection needs." This includes making sure that when we humans explore outer space, we don't contaminate other planets or moons--or bring back anything that could contaminate earth. (Starting salary ranges from $124,406 to $187,000 per year, but preferred applicants should hold an advanced science degree and be recognized as a subject matter expert.)
Of course, this type of job is the thing that a kid's dreams are made of. So it was no surprise that NASA soon received the following application from 9-year-old Jack Davis:
My name is Jack Davis and I would like to apply for the planetary protection officer job. I may be nine but I think I would be fit for the job. One of the reasons is my sister says I am an alien. Also, 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. I am great at vidieo [sic] games. I am young, so I can learn to think like an alien.
Guardian of the Galaxy
NASA could have easily ignored this letter, or simply filed it away and forgotten about it.
They could have, but they didn't.
NASA's Outstanding Response
Not one to let a great opportunity slip away, the space agency took this chance to encourage the young applicant, by means of an official letter:
I hear you are a 'Guardian of the Galaxy' and that you're interested in being a NASA Planetary Protection Officer. That's great!
Our Planetary Protection Officer position is really cool and is very important work. It's about protecting Earth from tiny microbes when we bring back samples from the Moon, asteroids and Mars. It's also about protecting other planets and moons from our germs as we responsibly explore the Solar System.
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!
Dr. James L. Green
Director, Planetary Science Division"
In addition, a press release from the space administration says the young fourth-grader "also received a phone call from NASA's Planetary Research Director, Jonathan Rall at NASA Headquarters in Washington, to congratulate him on his interest in the position."
"At NASA, we love to teach kids about space and inspire them to be the next generation of explorers," Green said. "Think of it as a gravity assist--a boost that may positively and forever change a person's course in life, and our footprint in the universe."
The Lesson for You and Me
Before you dismiss this as a simple PR stunt, put yourself in the shoes of that young boy.
How would it affect you to get a response on official NASA letterhead, encouraging you to study hard and do well in school? Imagine then receiving an encouraging phone call from one of the organization's leaders, reinforcing those ideas--along with the hope that you could actually make it to NASA one day.
Scientific research shows that one of the best ways to create positive self-fulfilling prophecies is to identify and nurture potential.
In other words: If you show kids that they're talented, they'll deliver on that promise. If you help them believe they have something to contribute, they will.
Remember: The children are the future. That's not a cliché; it's an undeniable truth.
Our job is to inspire the next generation. To care about them, motivate them, and make them believe in themselves.
In order to do that, you have to believe in them, first.