Duties of NASA's planetary protection officer include saving Earth

NASA job saving Earth

WASHINGTON -- Bored at work? Find yourself staring into space? NASA may have the job for you.

It comes with a six-figure salary and civil service protection -- and duties include saving the Earth.

It sounds like a job from the movie "Men in Black" about government employees saving the Earth from creepy aliens.

Cassie Conley CBS News

Cassie Conley is NASA's planetary protection officer, and that is -- sort of -- what she does, but on a smaller scale, and not quite as messy.

"The job is defending Earth from aliens, but they're microbes, not space invaders," she told CBS News.

We asked if bringing rocks back from Mars would lead to some sort of evil microbe destroying life on Earth.

"Preventing that is the whole point of this job, because we don't know," she said.

After 11 years, she's decided to move on, and when NASA posted the job opening, it went viral -- comparing her to Hollywood's long history of alien invasion heroes.

"You really have to have a sense of humor with this job," Conley said.

She spends a lot of her time focused on Mars and whether life exists there.

"There absolutely is life on Mars because there's life on the spacecraft that we've sent to Mars," she said.

That's right, countless tiny microbes from Earth are now hitching a ride around the red planet. Conley steers the rovers away from areas where native Martian life might exist -- to avoid the possibility of interplanetary war on a microscopic level.

The job usually requires a PhD and a broad scientific background.

But one 9-year-old boy wrote NASA that he's "fit for the job" because "my sister says I am an alien" and "I am young so I can learn to think like an alien."

He signed it Jack Davis, "Guardian of the Galaxy."

Jack Davis' letter to NASA CBS News

NASA urged him to "study hard and do well in school." 

After he gets his PhD, hopefully he'll apply again. Because we'll always we'll need someone to protect from whatever is out there.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.