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Astrophysics: Better than aerospace?

  1. Nov 4, 2011 #1
    I made a thread a month or two ago when I was questioning my current major. I am currently an aerospace engineer with plans to get a minor in physics/astrophysics. I started questioning my decision and wanted to lean toward switching to Astrophysics as my major, and possibly get aerospace engi as a minor. However, I talked myself out of it in fear that the only job an astrophysicist does is become a professor and do research for the university. But now I am questioning myself again, and need some guidance from those with experience or know more. I'll list some stuff about myself below, and then what i'd like to know.

    What I want to do/What I find interesting: Money is not my main priority, as it shouldn't ever be. If you are passionate about your career, money will come, or so i'm told. Regardless, I am HIGHLY interested in everything about space. I like rockets, missiles, astrophysics, Einstein's work, etc. I love to read up on it. Now my ideal job is a little strange. I don't care what I am actually doing, I just want to progress our space travel/knowledge of space. Whether that is building a space shuttle, designing one, or finding out how to make one go faster. Whatever it is, I want to know at the end of my life that I help push us toward inhabiting other planets or exploring the universe. So my perception was that aerospace engineering would allow me to help collaboratively design better spacecraft to do this. However, the more I've read up on all of this, it seems more like the astrophysicists, or scientists or something actually do all the research and just hand it over to the engineers to build. Basically, they make the blueprints/concept, and engineers just turn it into reality. As much as i'd like either job, it seems dissatisfying to me that instead of progressing our space travel through discovery, I will just be a highly specialized mechanic that just screws in some bolts and puts together a machine, which I guess is what engineering is.

    So my question is, for those of you who know an astrophysicist, or better yet, ARE one, what exactly do you do? What jobs are there to actually get? Can you only be a professor or work for the government? Does the private industry, such as SpaceX or a similar company, actually hire astrophysicists to research? If so, what is the pay like? Not that the pay is priority, but if I spend thousands of dollars and many years in college learning a highly intelligent field of study that everyone can do, i'd not like to make the same as a teacher or say the local store owner.

    I'm trying to find out soon before I waste time in classes for a major I don't end up getting. I like aerospace so far, even though technically the only aerospace i've done is my intro to aerospace (i'm a freshman). The only downside is it seems like there is a HEAVY focus on aircraft and not spacecraft. We do a lot of aerodynamics, which is needed, but I really could care less about learning to build a new commercial jet. I'd also like to do what I enjoy more, and for now it seems like that is astrophysics.

    What i'm scared about honestly, is that getting a major in astrophysics (since at my uni, you just get a degree in physics and take a "path" of astrophysics) will just be physics courses only and that my only "space-like" courses will be astronomy. Thanks in advance for any help given. I'll check this daily and continue to discuss/reply.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2011 #2


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    I think you have somewhat the wrong idea about both aerospace and astrophysics. For designing or improving spacecraft, launch vehicles, and rocket engines, aerospace engineering will be far more relevant than astrophysics, as astrophysics is much more related to the actual scientific study of other planets, stars, and galaxies (and not the study of how to get there). Engineers absolutely design the spacecraft and launch vehicles - they don't just build them. Engineering should be a focus on design and analysis of components and systems, not just assembly.

    Which school are you currently going to? I'd be curious to take a look at your curriculum for aerospace.
  4. Nov 4, 2011 #3
    They are pretty unrelated fields actually. If you are interested in space travel, building/designing things, aerodynamics, etc. then go aerospace. If you are interested in understanding nature, go astrophysics. If you really want to hurt yourself, you could do a double major and then be set up for either field after graduation, or taking classes in either major could help you decide which way to go.
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