The job comes with a six figure salary—$124,406 to $187,000 per year—and security clearance is listed as "secret." The role involves stopping astronauts and robots from getting contaminated with any organic and biological material during space travel.
“NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to 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 intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration” the job advert reads. “This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements.”
The job, initially, is a three-year contract that may be extended for a further two years. During this time, NASA will be planning several missions, including one to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, where it will search for signs of alien life.
“The Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) is responsible for the leadership of NASA's planetary protection capability, maintenance of planetary protection policies, and oversight of their implementation by NASA's space flight missions,” the job spec says. The successful candidate will have to work with several different branches of NASA and external organizations that are involved in planetary protection.
According to the job listing, the main responsibilities are:
Leads planning and coordination of activities related to NASA mission planetary protection needs. Leads independent evaluation of, and provides advice regarding, compliance by robotic and human spaceflight missions with NASA planetary protection policies, statutory requirements and international obligations.
Advises the Chief, SMA and other officials regarding the merit and implications of programmatic decisions involving risks to planetary protection objectives.
In coordination with relevant offices, leads interactions with COSPAR, National Academies, and advisory committees on planetary protection matters.
Recommends and leads the preparation of new or revised NASA standards and directives in accordance with established processes and guidelines.
Candidates must have “broad engineering expertise,” and should be an expert in planetary protection: “This includes demonstrated technical expertise to independently form technically sound judgments and evaluations in considerably complex situations.” Candidates should also have a degree in physical science, engineering or mathematics.