• NASA is hiring a planetary protection officer with a salary of up to $187,000.
  • The job was created after the signing of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
  • Planetary protection officers are tasked with making sure humans don’t contaminate planets, moons, and other objects in space.
  • They’re also supposed to help prevent any alien microbes from spreading to Earth.

US government scientists work hard to protect the public.

Some study infectious diseases and effective treatments. Others ensure that drugs, food, vehicles, or consumer products live up to their claims and don’t harm anyone.

But the concerns at NASA’s headquarters are, quite literally, extraterrestrial — which is why the space agency now has a job opening for “planetary protection officer.”

The gig? Help defend Earth from alien contamination, and help Earth avoid contaminating alien worlds it’s trying to explore.

The pay? A six-figure salary, from $124,406 to $187,000 a year, plus benefits.

A rare and cosmically important position

While many space agencies hire planetary protection officers, they’re often shared or part-time roles.

In fact, only two such full-time roles exist in the world: one at NASA and the other at the European Space Agency.

That’s according to Catharine Conley, NASA’s only planetary protection officer since 2014. Business Insider interviewed Conley most recently in March.

“This new job ad is a result of relocating the position I currently hold to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which is an independent technical authority within NASA,” Conley told Business Insider in an email on Tuesday. (She did not say whether she planned to reapply for the position, which is held for at least three years but may be extended to five years.)

catharine a conley planetary protection officer paul alers nasaCatharine Conley, NASA’s sole planetary protection officer. Paul E. Alers/NASA

The position was created after the US ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, specifically to support Article IX of the document:

“States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, 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 and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”

Part of the international agreement is that any space mission must have a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world.

“It’s a moderate level,” Conley previously told Business Insider. “It’s not extremely careful, but it’s not extremely lax.”

This is why NASA’s planetary protection officer occasionally gets to travel to space centers around the world and analyze planet-bound robots. The officer helps ensure we don’t accidentally contaminate a pristine world that a probe is landing on — or, more often, is zooming by and photographing.

EuropaSkye Gould/Business Insider

For example, Congress and the president have given NASA the green light to explore Europa, an icy, ocean-hiding, and potentially habitable moon of Jupiter. The goal of the initial $2.7 billion Europa Clipper mission is not to land on the moon, though, but to map its surface and look for clues about its hidden ocean and habitability.

Still, there’s a chance the robot could crash-land — so someone like Conley comes in to mitigate risk.

Conversely, the officer helps ensure something from another world, most imminently Mars, doesn’t contaminate Earth.

mars waterAn illustration of Mars’ ancient oceans. ESO/M. Kornmesser

The red planet is a frequent targetfor NASA because it’s similar to Earth. It may have once been covered in water and able to support life, which is why many scientists are pushing hard for a Mars sample return mission, ostensibly to seek out signs of aliens.

While the expectation is not to scoop up freeze-dried Martian microbes — only ancient, microscopic fossils — there’s always the chance of contamination once those samples are in earthbound labs.

Again, this is where the planetary protection officer and her team come in. They help establish the equipment, protocols, and procedures to reduce such risks.

“The phrase that we use is ‘Break the chain of contact with Mars,'” Conley previously said.

No one ever said defending Earth had to be glorious all the time, though — Conley said a typical week mostly involved a lot of emails and reading studies, proposals, and other materials.

Who qualifies as a candidate

An out-of-this-world job like Conley’s requires some equally extraordinary qualifications.

A candidate must have at least one year of experience as a top-level civilian government employee, plus have “advanced knowledge” of planetary protection and all it entails.

europaThis artist’s rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean.NASA/JPL-Caltech

If you don’t have “demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance,” you may be wasting your time by applying.

The job involves a lot of international coordination — space exploration is expensive, and the costs are frequently shared by multiple nations — so NASA needs someone with “demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.”

Did we mention the advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics? You should have that on your résumé, too.

The job comes with a “secret” security clearance, and noncitizens aren’t technically eligible, thanks to an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

NASA is accepting applications at USAJobs.gov from July 13 through August 14.

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259 Comments

Christopher Witehira · August 5, 2017 at 8:07 am

I am already on IT!! NASA!! ASK AI!!

Larz Larklessor · August 4, 2017 at 5:11 am

Can I ?

Wezz Sidz Willis · August 3, 2017 at 8:55 pm

I want that job my name written all on it.

Rachael Rollinson · August 3, 2017 at 7:19 pm

An hour with me talking crap, they would soon go back 😂👋🏼

Bong Boniza · August 3, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Count me in.

Jill Grist · August 3, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Why would they want to come here hopefully they have more sense !!!

Relz O'Connor · August 3, 2017 at 10:00 am

Too many pets already!!

Relle O'Connor · August 3, 2017 at 9:24 am

Relz O’Connor I think we all know I could do this job!

    Relz O'Connor · August 3, 2017 at 9:46 am

    The job description is to defend earth from them….not adore them as Your Omnipresence! ! !

    Relle O'Connor · August 3, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Oh my bad…… so I can’t have one as a pet then?!

    Relz O'Connor · August 3, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Daddy says you have dozens of aliens running around the house now….and you don’t like ’em!!!!!

    Relle O'Connor · August 3, 2017 at 10:03 am

    I fricken hate mice.

Bret Boutwell · August 3, 2017 at 4:19 am

you have just found your man right here….

Terence Charles Hodgson · August 3, 2017 at 12:54 am

I am higherd

Douglas Hugh Ryan · August 2, 2017 at 10:13 pm

Where was this job when I was career searching in high school!

Paul Winstanley · August 2, 2017 at 9:10 pm

Alex Mason av found you the perfect job mate for u ha ha x

    Alex Mason · August 2, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Mate I so need to apply for this job x

Emma Pirie · August 2, 2017 at 8:18 pm

oh NASA. seems this planet has been visited many, many times!. sure you’re checking the ‘Protecting’ Earth part, hmm… Don’t think so!! ways and means of contact.! and for those humans infecting beyond this planet, .. lame NASA.

Andy Randy · August 2, 2017 at 8:03 pm

Its each other we need to worry about and not aliens as we have always been fighting each other

Jesco Chambers-Escobar · August 2, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Im down to defend my planet…..but i need some super powers and awesome tech lol

Mark Walsh · August 2, 2017 at 6:57 pm

I got this

Richie Silveira · August 2, 2017 at 6:45 pm

How about defending earth from humans ? Cuz , that’s what’s the biggest threat , not aliens …lol

Mick Tolchard · August 2, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Religion is a lie created by evil to subjugate man kind the universe is supreme creative force always was always will be elleen prieto

Matt Bennett · August 2, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Good idea cos I’m sick of them landing in my garden and messing up my rhododendrons not doing my pansies much good either and I’ve used my last bullett on this one now ecky thump …

James Moulton · August 2, 2017 at 5:54 pm

Where do I sign

Lazaro A. Sandoval · August 2, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Let’s do this!

Mamhod Raiesy · August 2, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Okay
I’ll take it
Any registration forms available

Michelle Jones · August 2, 2017 at 3:47 pm

I’m in keep me posted

Justin Corley · August 2, 2017 at 2:58 pm

We need to take the planet back not drfend it against peacekeepers

Nicholas John Soar · August 2, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Do you get all the standard issue MIB kit to go with it?

Michael Kelly · August 2, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Sounds like fun, they hire former military or just civilians?

Aaron Zbigniew Skonieczny · August 2, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Shit I’ll do it for the salary I’m paid as a Marine. As long as I finally get the fucking kill something.

Tom Reed · August 2, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Hear come the men in black

Sebastjan Varga · August 2, 2017 at 1:03 pm

where do I enlist?

John Moss · August 2, 2017 at 1:02 pm

I’m your man

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