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NASA is Looking for a New Planetary Protection Officer

Who says there are no good jobs available? If you didn’t get hired for that great position as a nanny in a haunted house or ghost babysitter at a haunted prison, perhaps you’re better qualified for something more space-oriented. Are you interested in protecting the planet from space aliens? NASA is looking for you. Its only Planetary Protection Officer (and one of only two in the world) is moving on and this great six-figure job is available for the right person. Could that be you? Do you own a lightsaber or a fast spaceship?

“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. This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements.”

That sounds like a big job for just one person, but Catherine Conley has been NASA’s planetary protection officer since 2014 and she must be doing a good job because we haven’t been contaminated since then … have we? In fact, the only reason the position is available is bureaucracy — the position is being moved to a different department and that requires opening it up for a new person … including Catherine Conley, who can reapply. And she would be wise to. Where else can you get paid between $124,406 to $187,000 a year to protect Earth from aliens, other than in the European Space Agency?

The Planetary Protection Officer does not have the authority to call out the Air Force

The biggest part of being a Planetary Protection Officer is protecting other planets from contamination by our space probes and protecting us from what returning probes might bring back. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 created the necessity for the position:

“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.”

Despite being paid up to $187,000, the Planetary Protection Officer doesn’t have to be perfect. In an interview with Business Insider, Conley said her target is to insure that Earth probes have a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating other celestial bodies. In that respect, this sounds more like an actuary at an insurance company. Conley traveled to space labs building equipment for missions and determined the probability of an orbiting probe photographing a planet’s surface suddenly crashing to the surface.

Labs like this one are the workplace of the Planetary Protection Officer

A bigger job is to protect Earth from contamination on so-called “sample return missions” like those planned for Mars. Conley has been helping to set up protocols and procedures to reduce the risks that Martian dirt will harm scientists or escape from the lab and kill us all.

If you think this is the job for you, get out your résumé and make sure it includes a degree in “physical science, engineering, or mathematics that included 24 semester hours in physical science and/or related engineering science such as mechanics, dynamics, properties of materials, and electronics” or equivalent experience. You must also have “experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance” and skills in “diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.” You know, like negotiating with alien leaders to keep their filthy spaceships off of our pristine planet.

Applications are being accepted until August 14. Good luck!


Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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