The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employs nearly 18,000 civil service employees, ranging from scientists to clerical workers, but perhaps the most unusual job at NASA is that of the planetary protection officer. He or she is responsible for ensuring that all NASA missions abide by the International Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This treaty precisely regulates how scientific research can be conducted in other parts of the solar system in order to prevent biological contamination. The planetary protection officer carries out policies so that all requirements are followed, such as sterilizing the spacecraft, not crashing into a site that may have life, and destroying the craft after the mission to prevent bacteria from contaminating the location.
More about NASA’s planetary protection program:
- As of 2016, there are 104 countries that are parties to the International Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
- Before NASA sent the *Viking* landers to Mars in 1976, the probes were "baked" for several days to kill as many bacterial spores as possible.
- Sterilizing a spacecraft before a mission can cost an additional $100 million (USD).