NASA is currently on the lookout for a candidate to take up an incredibly unusual and fascinating job role at that space agency, that of ‘planetary protection officer.' 

The primary role of this job, which comes with a considerable salary, is to coordinate the protection of the planet Earth from contamination from alien planets.


The position of planetary protection officer was first created in 1967 after the United States ratified the Outer Space Treaty.

Article IX of the document which states that all missions to space must be carried out in full mindfulness of protecting the planet from potential contamination from alien worlds.

For a space mission to be permitted, there must be less than a one in ten thousand chance that this kind of contamination could occur.

This means that the primary role of the planetary protection officer is to analyze the potential risks of contamination from space missions and to come up with measures to help to mitigate the risks. 

Mars is considered to be the most difficult and potentially problematic planet for the person in control of contamination to manage. 

It is believed that the Red Planet was once covered in a considerable body of water and that it might have once been the home of alien organisms. 

Scientists from NASA are very keen to collect fragments from the planet which might point to the existence of ancient alien life on Mars. 

The role of the planetary protection officer is to ensure that none of these samples have the potential to contaminate Earth once they are brought back to the planet. 

Many space agencies across the world have planetary protection officers, but they tend to be shared roles. 

There are only two full-time planetary protection officers in the entire world, one based at NASA and the other based on the European Space Agency. 

To fulfill such a rare and specialized job, a very exceptional candidate is required. 

According to NASA, the successful candidate will have at least one year of experience at the top level of civilian government; they will have an advanced knowledge of planetary protection, diplomatic experience so that they can deal effectively with international space agencies and an advanced degree in either physical science, engineering or mathematics. 

After all of that, the candidate will have to undergo extensive security clearances. 

At this current time, NASA’s planetary protection officer is Catharine Conley who has held the role since 2014. 

The role is held for three years at a time by one individual, although the contract can be extended. 

Conley has yet to make it clear whether she intends to reapply for her current job or to move on to a new area within the space agency.