Her Job at NASA Is to Keep It That Way


Catharine A. Conley has a lofty job title: planetary protection officer.

That conjures to mind shades-wearing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the “Men in Black” movies. Indeed, on her first day on the job, nine years ago, she was presented with a pair of sunglasses.

But with no extraterrestrial invasions on the horizon, Dr. Conley’s job is not so much protecting Earth from aliens as protecting other planets from Earth.

Mars, in particular.

“If we’re going to look for life on Mars, it would be really kind of lame to bring Earth life and find that instead,” Dr. Conley said.