Articles

NASA has a job opening for someone to defend Earth from aliens

US government scientists work hard to protect the public.


Some study infectious diseases and effective treatments. Others ensure that drugs, food, vehicles, or consumer products live up to their claims and don't harm anyone.

But the concerns at NASA's headquarters are, quite literally, extraterrestrial — which is why the space agency now has a job opening for "planetary protection officer."

The gig? Help defend Earth from alien contamination, and help Earth avoid contaminating alien worlds it's trying to explore.

USAF photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley

The pay? A six-figure salary, from $124,406 to $187,000 a year, plus benefits.

A rare and cosmically important position

While many space agencies hire planetary protection officers, they're often shared or part-time roles.

In fact, only two such full-time roles exist in the world: one at NASA and the other at the European Space Agency.

That's according to Catharine Conley, NASA's only planetary protection officer since 2014. Business Insider interviewed Conley most recently in March.

"This new job ad is a result of relocating the position I currently hold to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, which is an independent technical authority within NASA," Conley told Business Insider in an email on Tuesday. (She did not say whether she planned to reapply for the position, which is held for at least three years but may be extended to five years.)

Catharine Conley, NASA's sole planetary protection officer. Photo from Paul E. Alers/NASA

The position was created after the US ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, specifically to support Article IX of the document:

"States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose."

Part of the international agreement is that any space mission must have a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contaminating an alien world.

"It's a moderate level," Conley previously told Business Insider. "It's not extremely careful, but it's not extremely lax."

Photo from NASA.

This is why NASA's planetary protection officer occasionally gets to travel to space centers around the world and analyze planet-bound robots. The officer helps ensure we don't accidentally contaminate a pristine world that a probe is landing on — or, more often, is zooming by and photographing.

For example, Congress and the president have given NASA the green light to explore Europa, an icy, ocean-hiding, and potentially habitable moon of Jupiter. The goal of the initial $2.7 billion Europa Clipper mission is not to land on the moon, though, but to map its surface and look for clues about its hidden ocean and habitability.

Still, there's a chance the robot could crash-land — so someone like Conley comes in to mitigate risk.

Conversely, the officer helps ensure something from another world, most imminently Mars, doesn't contaminate Earth.

The oceans of Mars. Illustration from European Southern Observatory.

The red planet is a frequent target for NASA because it's similar to Earth. It may have once been covered in water and able to support life, which is why many scientists are pushing hard for a Mars sample return mission, ostensibly to seek out signs of aliens.

While the expectation is not to scoop up freeze-dried Martian microbes — only ancient, microscopic fossils — there's always the chance of contamination once those samples are in earthbound labs.

Again, this is where the planetary protection officer and her team come in. They help establish the equipment, protocols, and procedures to reduce such risks.

"The phrase that we use is 'Break the chain of contact with Mars,'" Conley previously said.

Photo from NASA JPL

No one ever said defending Earth had to be glorious all the time, though — Conley said a typical week mostly involved a lot of emails and reading studies, proposals, and other materials.

Who qualifies as a candidate

An out-of-this-world job like Conley's requires some equally extraordinary qualifications.

A candidate must have at least one year of experience as a top-level civilian government employee, plus have "advanced knowledge" of planetary protection and all it entails.

If you don't have "demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance," you may be wasting your time by applying.

Photo from NASA.

The job involves a lot of international coordination — space exploration is expensive, and the costs are frequently shared by multiple nations — so NASA needs someone with "demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions."

Did we mention the advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics? You should have that on your résumé, too.

The job comes with a "secret" security clearance, and non-citizens aren't technically eligible, thanks to an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

NASA is accepting applications at USAJobs.gov from July 13 through August 14.

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

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