Government scientists in the U.S always strive to protect public interest, with some studying infectious diseases while others focus on discovering effective treatments for such diseases, as other scientists strive to ensure that consumer products, including food, fuel, and drugs are
hygienically-safe and environmentally-safe.
NASA has also worked to promote public safety, but its focus is to protect humanity from threats of extra-terrestrial origin. It is in this light that its headquarters has advertised a job opening for work that requires a unique skill-set.
The opening is advertised under the label planetary protection officer whose job description focuses mainly on contamination prevention and control. Basically, the planetary protection officer must defend our planet from being contaminated by extra-terrestrial material or life, including extraterrestrial micro-organisms; as well as help space-bound rockets, study missions, and satellites do not contaminate celestial planets with earth-based materials. This is meant to preserve alien life, in addition to allowing scientists to study alien life in its original habitat.
High paid position
Even though this job title seems nondescript on cursory view, its pay is interestingly high with the quoted salary ranging anywhere between USD124,406 and USD187,000 per annum, plus other benefits. This makes this job a rare, yet cosmically-significant position. Even so, space agencies across the globe have been employing planetary protection officers, but usually on a temporary or contractual basis, with the hired officers being shared among these space agencies. Still, there
are 2 full-time planetary protection officers; one based in European Space Agency, and the other in NASA. The one at NASA is Catharine Conley who was hired in 2014.
According to Conley, during an interview with Business Insider which was published in March 2017, the new planetary protection officer position has been created because her current job profile is being relocated to fall under the supervision of the independent technical authority, where her job is to done from the office of safety-and-mission assurance. This office is overseen by NASA. Conley
never confirmed to Business Insider whether she will reapply fro her job, or if she expects her 3-year stint to be extended by another 2 years.
According to NASA, the position of the planetary protection officer was created in 1967 under Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty that was then being ratified by the U.S government. This ratified treaty allowed the signatory states to study celestial planets and bodies including moons, with their exploratory missions taking care to avoid contaminating celestial bodies with earth-based matter, or
contaminating earth with celestial matter. As a result, this international agreement set the limit for a safe space mission at 0.0001 probability of the mission contaminating the alien habitat, or contaminating earth with alien life. According to Conley, this probability level can be described as moderate as it is not extremely careful, nor is it extremely lax. Also, this explains why she has to visit space centers across the globe so as to analyze their planet-bound robots.
Europa Mission In 2017, the U.S government authorized NASA to conduct exploratory study
mission of Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter that is theorized to conceal an ocean and being potentially habitable. For this mission, a budget of USD2.7 billion has been allocated. The mission is now code-named Europa Clipper. Still, there is a risk the mission robot could crash-land on the moon, and it is the planetary protection officer who is expected to set a contingency for mitigating this risk.
Similarly, the planetary protection officer who is expected to set a contingency for mitigating this risk of earth being contaminated by alien material spouting out of some planets. The planet of interest in this regard is Mars, as this red planet is close to Earth and Mars-bound mission directed by NASA run the risk of digging out fossilized or buried alien micro-organisms and spores which can inadvertently be carried back to our planet.
Still, according to Conley, apart from the above-mentioned duties, the planet protection officers has to read lots of emails, proposals, and studies; as well as assessing the materials of the space-bound
Job Qualifications For a candidate to qualify to become a planet protection officer, he or she must have worked at a top-level civilian government position for at least 12months. Likewise, the candidate must possess advanced knowledge of astronomy and planetary protection. Also, because this job involves lots of international coordination duties, the candidate must have practical diplomacy skills that can streamline complex multilateral discussions. Moreover, the candidate must have a solid foundation in mathematics, engineering, and physical sciences.
To conclude, it is important to highlight that this job position comes with a security clearance level categorized as secret. At the moment prospective candidates are encouraged to apply through the official website of NASA and at USAJobs.gov