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NASA is looking for an engineer to make a six-figure salary as a Planetary Protection Officer. The position sounds fit for a superhero, but it’s actually more about preventing contamination in space than about fighting off aliens.

The current Planetary Protection Officer is Catharine A. Conley, who was hired in 2006.

The Planetary Protection Officer is assigned to maintain the policies which govern “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 [i]ntended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration…”

Therefore, the person chosen for the job must have experience in engineering as well as in diplomacy, with demonstrable competence in high-risk, “extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions.”

The ideal candidate will have a degree in physical sciences, engineering, or mathematics with at least 24 semester hours in physical sciences and/or engineering.

Don’t expect the new Planetary Protection Officer to come right out of school, though – they also must have “demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance” along with the aforementioned examples of win-win outcomes in diplomatic discussions."

As humanity moves further out into the solar system, setting contaminants down on Mars or other possible sites for exploration like Europa could make discovery more difficult. On the more science fiction end of the spectrum, there is also the possibility that microbes from space could harm life on Earth.

“It has become clear that linking planetary protection and contamination control requirements and processes together early in the mission development and spacecraft design is key to keeping mission costs in check and returning high-quality samples that are free from biological and organic contaminants,” Patricia M. Beauchamp of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in a 2011 report on planetary protection and contamination control.

To apply for this out-of-this-world job, click here.

(Editor's note: Information about current Planetary Protection Officer Catharine Conley added.)

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