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Some were agog at the six-figure salary: between $124,000 and $187,000 per year. Others laughed at the fantastical job title, one that conjured up science-fiction fantasies and battles with aliens. (In reality, NASA says, the position is focused on preventing astronauts from bringing biological contaminants from space back to Earth — and vice versa.)
But one 9-year-old boy in New Jersey took the vacancy seriously. So he took a sheet of paper and an obviously well-sharpened pencil and carefully hand-wrote his application.
“Dear NASA, My name is Jack Davis and I would like to apply for the planetary protection officer job,” Jack wrote. “I may be nine but I think I would be fit for the job.”
Among his qualifications? For one, he wrote, his sister says he's an alien. Jack also said he had watched the TV show “Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “almost all the space and alien movies I can” — though not yet “Men in Black.” (In Jack's defense, the 1997 hit movie with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones came out more than a decade before he was even born.)
Toward the end of his letter, Jack casually mentions that he is great at video games. But his final assertion is perhaps the most persuasive.
“I am young, so I can learn to think like an alien,” Jack wrote.
He signed off with his name and appended it with “Guardian of the Galaxy” and “Fourth Grade.”
Jack soon got that simple yet elusive thing every job seeker wants: confirmation that his application had been received. James L. Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, wrote back to him right away.
“I hear you are a 'Guardian of the Galaxy' and that you're interested in being a NASA Planetary Protection Officer,” Green wrote. “That's great!”
He also took the time to dispel any myths about what the job entailed.
“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.”
In short, it's light on the alien encounters. But Green signed off on an encouraging note, telling Jack to “study hard and do well in school” so that they could see him at NASA eventually. As a bonus, Jack also received a phone call from NASA's headquarters in Washington to congratulate him on his interest.
“At NASA, we love to teach kids about space and inspire them to be the next generation of explorers,” Green said in a statement. “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.”
Jack told ABC News that it would be “really cool” to work for NASA.
“I feel like — I am the only one who really wants a job at NASA this young,” he told the news station.
Amy B Wang is a national politics reporter covering 2020 presidential campaigns. She joined The Washington Post in 2016 as a general assignment reporter after seven years with the Arizona Republic. Follow