Want to Protect Earth from Aliens? NASA Is Hiring

Mars as Seen by Viking 1
Mars as seen by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

If you've always dreamed of helping keep Earth safe from alien invaders, your ship may have just come in.

NASA is looking to hire a planetary protection officer, a person who will lead the agency's efforts to keep its spacecraft and astronauts from contaminating worlds with life-forms that don't belong there.

NASA officials have stressed that keeping Earth clean — of alien microbes that could arrive here in a sample-return capsule, for example — is the highest priority, but the responsibility applies to all celestial objects that agency spacecraft visit.

"NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all spaceflight 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," NASA officials wrote in a job description. "This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements."

So the job checks the making-a-difference box. The pay is good, too; the stated salary range is $124,406 to $187,000. And if you're after a challenge, you'll almost certainly get it.

The topic of planetary protection is generating more and more discussion these days as NASA works on getting (microbe-laden) astronauts to Mars and sending robotic probes to potentially habitable worlds, such as Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa. (The agency is scheduled to launch a Europa flyby mission in the 2020s, and Congress has instructed NASA to put a lander down on the moon's icy surface as well.)

Such plans have spurred debate within the spaceflight community, with some exploration advocates stressing that planetary-protection concerns could hinder the effort to put boots on Mars and hunt for life on the Red Planet.

Still interested? You have until Aug. 14 to apply (which you can do here).

This is not a newly created job; Cassie Conley has been NASA's planetary protection officer for several years now. The new posting is a result of relocating the position to NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, Conley told Business Insider. She did not indicate whether she plans to reapply, Business Insider reported.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.