Space exploration comes with risk, some of it too small to see with the naked eye. If you want to help mitigate that risk — and maybe even save the earth from alien invaders — you’ll be excited to hear that NASA is currently hiring for a planetary protection officer. The salary? $124,406 to $187,000 per year.
What Does a Planetary Protection Officer Do?
Per the description at USA Jobs:
Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration. NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration.
In short, the planetary protection officer makes sure that human space explorers don’t accidentally bring anything back from their interplanetary travels — a microorganism, for example.
But perhaps just as importantly, the person in this role makes sure that we don’t contaminate other planets, per the terms of the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty, which states that signatory countries “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.”
NASA's planetary protection officer protects the earth from aliens...and other planets from us.
Who Should Apply?
It won’t surprise you to learn that the requirements for this role are pretty steep, including a degree in physical science, engineering or mathematics — advanced degree preferred — and at least a year of engineering experience at the GS-15 level (the top of the government’s pay scale). The candidate must also have considerable diplomacy skills, to coordinate with other agencies around the world, and “advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection, its requirements and mission categories,” per the job listing.
In fact, the best candidate might be the person who has the job now, Dr. Catharine Conley. She’s held the time-limited appointment since 2014.
“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.
No word on whether she’ll reapply for the position, which has a term of three to five years.
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