NASA is offering a six figure salary for an out of this world role: that of planetary protection officer. And it seems reasonable remuneration considering the prospective hire’s responsibilities will include protecting Earth from extraterrestrial life (sort of).
Although NASA’s new job opening sounds like something straight out of Men in Black, plenty of space agencies already employ planetary protection officers in a part-time or shared role capacity, Business Insider reports. However only the European Space Agency and NASA employ a full time planetary protection officer.
According to a job description posted on USA jobs, the new hire will focus on the “avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.” In other words: ensuring space missions don’t end up polluting pristine planets and that extraterrestrial matter does not contaminate Earth.
“If we’re going to look for life on Mars, it would be really kind of lame to bring Earth life and find that instead,” Catharine Conley, who has served as NASA’s sole planetary protection officer since 2014, told the New York Times in 2015.
Applicants face a tough hiring process as the space agency requires an advanced degree in science or math and have experience planning and executing space programs, as well as skills in diplomacy “that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.”
The planetary protection role reportedly came about as a result of the Outer Space Treaty, an international agreement ratified by the U.S. in 1967. The treaty includes a stipulation that all space missions should have a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world.