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Careers/Training for Space Industry - Help

  1. Feb 13, 2008 #1
    I have a great interest in space exploration and am trying to find somewhere I could work in that field. I don't think I have the grades to get into aerospace engineering, so I am wondering where else there would be opportunities. Does anyone have any ideas, perhaps in technician work or something? And if so, where schools exist, preferably in Canada?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2008 #2
    First off, don't sell yourself short. What's your current educational level? Are you looking to apply for an undergraduate degree? Give it a shot with the grades you have now. Or, if you're not yet ready for a four-year degree, try a community/junior college first. Don't give up on your goal just because of a few past mistakes in classes.

    Secondly, the space industry encompasses many, many fields. Aerospace engineering most certainly, as well as physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, material science, mathematics, computer science, computer engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering, biology, meteorology, and pretty much every scientific and technical field I neglected to list. Non-STEM specialist are also needed such as writers and journalists, business people, lawyers, graphic designers, photographers and videographers, policy experts, physical trainers and doctors, educators, pilots, etc.

    Your choices are wide open: What do you want to do? Decide on an area and go after it.
     
  4. Feb 16, 2008 #3
    tinorman, u and i seem to have similar goals. im too am wondering hwo to get there but not do aerospace engineering. for some reason i like physics the most and hoep to apply it somehow...somehow...what kind of skills can a physcist bring? Calculating trajectories? Maybe materials physics to help build the craft. But what else??
     
  5. Feb 16, 2008 #4
    Because it's what I know best, I'll focus on NASA. Keep in mind that the space industry encompasses many other countries' space programs (RSA, ESA, JAXA, CSA, CSNA, etc.) as well as private companies that also hire physicists.

    NASA is currently broken up into four mission directorates: Aeronautics Research, Exploration Systems, Science, and Space Operations, all of which need physicists. Since we're limiting this discussion to space exploration, I'll only talk about the latter three.

    The goal of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is to carry out the Vision for Space Exploration with human and robotic missions. The creation of the robots and the transportation of both humans and robots (launch vehicle, cargo, landing, development of lunar infrastructure, etc.) all need existing and new technologies that physicists work to design and create with engineers.

    It may seem like all space exploration falls under the directorate I just described, but without the Science Directorate, there would be no fundamental need for robotic and human exploration. Scientists define the goals of the mission, design the experiments and detectors, gather the data, process and analyze the data, and make discoveries which allow the public to understand why a national space organization is important. Physicists represent a large number of scientists in this directorate.

    The Space Operations Directorate is charged with running the space shuttle, the International Space Station, and flight support. This is where your example of calculating and tracking trajectories comes in, as well as monitoring thousands of systems on the space vehicles during operation, during launch and landing, during rendezvous and docking, ensuring space communications, and transitioning current hardware and systems to the new launch vehicle. I believe astronaut training also falls under this directorate. Technically trained specialists of all kinds, including physicists, are needed for these activities.

    What I've just described is a broad overview; I've definitely neglected to mention many other jobs within space exploration at NASA in which physicists take part. I recently met a highly successful manager of a military research facility who told me that his physics training allowed him to do a broad range of jobs throughout his career. He said he usually didn't have the job title "physicist," but he always considered himself one. The same is true here: Most of these positions are not specifically for physicists, but physicists could and do get hired to do them.
     
  6. Feb 18, 2008 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    I worked for NASA for 5 years- the aerospace industry can use pretty much anyone with a technical background. There's various 'grades': scientists, engineers, technicians.. all are useful to the major corporations and government agencies. And the specific field doesn't matter: mechanical, electrical, software, chemical engineering; machinists, etc. etc. etc.

    That said, there's a glut right now: lots of (entrenched) people and newly laid-off combined with a decrease in the funding levels lead to a oversupply of labor.
     
  7. Feb 18, 2008 #6
    Considering that China is investing substantially in its space industry, recently became the 3rd nation in history to independently put a human in space, and is planning a manned lunar mission within a decade, if you end up in a curriculum where you have to take a foreign language you might be getting ahead of the game to take Mandarin Chinese.

    Not necessarily to pursue some role in the Chinese space program but because there will probably be some synergy going on between it and the various national and private space programs in future years. Particularly if you ended up in one of the non-technical professions like Laura1013 mentioned - journalist, lawyer, or policy-maker, for example - it could be useful, and who knows it could become useful on the technical side of things too if China ends up exporting any of its aerospace products or technology.

    I've taken some Mandarin myself and although it's difficult to pronounce properly the grammar is actually simpler than the European languages I've taken, French and Spanish.
     
  8. Feb 18, 2008 #7
    Interesting ideas. Thanks for the advice thus far. I think I'll still end up doing what I can to work on the engineering side, but some nice alternatives in case I ever change my mind.
     
  9. Apr 3, 2008 #8
    I'd also like to get into the space-industry. Does anyone know if it matters whether I have a MS in Chemical vs. Mechanical engineering? I heard if you work in aerospace but don't have an aerospace degree, then yes, you'll find a job, but you will only get assigned to side projects and it will be harder to rise to any position of prominence because you won't have the proper training. For instance as a MechE you could work on the engines of a rocket but you won't get a job that sees the big picture, just your small part.
     
  10. Apr 3, 2008 #9
    That's pretty much how any complex project would be where it is necessary for different people to work together as a team. It would be better to figure out which part of the industry you are interested in and adjust your major and coursework according to that (but try not to specialize too early).
     
  11. Apr 3, 2008 #10

    D H

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    A spacecraft, be it robotic or human-rated, is a very complex piece of machinery. One single discipline cannot do the whole job. There are plenty of jobs for chemical engineers in NASA. While you won't be designing guidance, navigation, and control systems, but you certainly can play a role in designing propulsion systems, or life support systems, or chemical sensors, ...
     
  12. Apr 4, 2008 #11

    Andy Resnick

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    The people that 'see the big picture' are any of the senior people, becasue they have been around long enough to understand a hugely complex project. There are senior engineers, senior scientists, senior managers, etc. It matters not what your initial training is in- if you want to rise within any organization, you need to keep learning new things- learn what the other engineers are doing, how an individual project fits into a larger scheme, and will yourself into someone that sees the big picture.
     
  13. Apr 4, 2008 #12

    D H

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    One engineering discipline specializes in not specializing but rather in taking the 'big picture' point of view. This discipline is called systems engineering, and it is a fairly new discipline. The field had its start in the 1940s at Bell Labs but didn't become a separate discipline until the 1980s or so. There are now several schools that provide academic programs in systems engineering; a directory of such programs is here.
     
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