IU astrobiologist to become NASA's planetary protection officer

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It looks like a 9-year-old New Jersey boy will have to wait a little longer to become NASA's "Guardian of the Galaxy."

Jack Davis wrote to NASA last August and asked to apply for the job, which is really a planetary protection officer.

NASA encouraged Jack to study hard so one day he could join them. In the meantime, an Indiana University astrobiologist has been named to the role.

Lisa Pratt is currently a Provost Professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

"We are on the verge of becoming a spacefaring species, and I feel privileged to be invited into an extraordinary conversation, pushing the frontiers of science, exploration and discovery at NASA. This position plays a direct role in seeking evidence to address a profound question: Are we alone?" said Pratt.

As planetary protection officer, Pratt will be responsible for the protection of Earth from potential contamination by extraterrestrial life forms, including microorganisms that could live in the ice or groundwater of Mars.

"With only a few decades left until there are boot prints on Mars, it is imperative for the international scientific community to plan for the unknown consequences of contact between two life forms and their biospheres. It's possible that 'first contact' has already occurred due to the unavoidable presence of spores and cell fragments on spacecraft launched from Earth and landed or crashed on Mars," said Pratt.

Her position with NASA in Washington, D.C. is effective Feb. 5.

MORE | 9-year-old boy applies to be NASA's 'Guardian of the Galaxy'

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