Protecting the planet

By Tina Hesman Saey, 13:18 PM October 18, 2012

Catharine “Cassie” Conley has the coolest job title at NASA: She’s the agency’s planetary protection officer. (The best title used to be “director of the universe,” but a reconfiguration a few years back eliminated that job description, she says.)

Since 2006, Conley (right) has been charged with preventing Earth from being overrun by extraterrestrial microbes or other contaminants brought back by NASA explorers. She also makes sure spacecraft don’t carry stowaways that could spread to other pl...

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