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Finding a Career in Space Exploration

  1. Jul 27, 2010 #1
    I wanted to see if anyone here would be able to help give me some advice about my University education. I've just graduated from High School and I got my marks on my Diploma Exams back (In Alberta, Canada there is a Standardized Provincial Exam at the end of each Grade 12 course that is worth 50% of your final mark) and I did very well. My entire life I have been interested in Astronomy, Planetary Science and Space Exploration as a whole... in the Scientific/Unmanned aspect and the Engineering/Manned aspect.

    I finished with a 85% in Pure Math 30, 85% in Chemistry 30, 92% in Physics 30, 91% in Social 30, and 82% in English 30. So I qualify for some scholarships which will help with paying for University, anyways enough about my marks.

    I was wondering how I would be able to get into a career that is in the space industry in one way or another either working at a place like NASA (not an Astronaut, it would be great but is impossible to achieve) or something to do with Space-related research.

    I've looked through a few programs on the internet and there were a few that stood out to me, hopefully you would be able to tell you if you think that it would be a good idea and potentially the positives and negatives to each if you have time to help me out!

    University of Saskatchewan - Bachelor of Science, Major in Physics, Minor in Astronomy
    -Looks like a good program but there is less emphasis on space as the entire degree would only have 6 courses relating to Astronomy. Affordable

    University of Saskatchewan - Bachelor of Engineering, Engineering Physics
    -Engineering program that would be affordable but I am unsure if I would want to do something in Engineering as opposed to something in Science.

    University of British Columbia - Honours Bachelor of Science, Physics and Astronomy
    http://www.physics.ubc.ca/undergrad/pa_intro.php [Broken]
    -Close to home, very scientific and theoretical. Hard program and a very good school! Unfortunately there are quite a few more math courses than other programs.

    Arizona State University - Bachelor of Science, Earth and Space Exploration
    http://sese.asu.edu/bs-earth-and-space-exploration [Broken]
    -This looks the most interesting program to me and I would love to take it but I am not sure if the interest would be worth it as I don't know if the degree is marketable or has enough Scientific/Engineering base to be practical. Very expensive.

    Arizona State University - BSE, Aerospace Engineering (Astronautics)
    -Another program that I would absolutely love to take, it would likely help me to work in the space industry and it has tons of unique programs like Space Mission Design and Space Structures that I would find extremely interesting! Unfortunately, it is just as expensive as the above degree.

    University of Arizona - Bachelor of Science, Planetary Science
    http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/undergrad/all_courses.php [Broken]
    -Focused solely on a scientific and theoretical aspect of things, there are tons of courses that I would find very interesting but I'm not sure that I would want to graduate with a degree in the subject.


    If you have time I would greatly appreciate a brief glance through what I posted and maybe you would be able to tell me what you think. I don't know if I would prefer a more hands-on job in Engineering that is directly working with making things happen as opposed to taking a more scientific and theoretical side of things. The goal for me is to help the progress of human civilization in regards to Space Exploration. I enjoy Physics/Astronomy/Chemistry more than Math and I see it as a just a tool for the aforementioned (?) subjects.

    I'm not going to lie... if I could do something with my life that would help humans to eventually colonize mars that would be the main goal of life! I don't think it is unrealistic for me to work at a place like NASA and I hope that my life does not go to waste by not doing anything useful for humanity.

    -Sam Reid

    NOTE: I do not care about making money, I will obviously make enough to get by in any field in science/engineering. I am planning on going on to a masters degree and maybe even a PhD... and I DO NOT want to spend my life working in a cubical from 9 to 5. Maybe I am overestimating my abilities and shooting WAY too high but I really would love to have a career in Space Exploration and would be willing to work extremely hard for it.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2010 #2
    Hello! I too am especially interested in space exploration. The route I chose was to attend Texas A&M for aerospace engineering. Of all the degrees for space exploration, I believe it is the most hands-on. You're not charting stars like an astronomer; you're building components to rocket engines, designing flight control mechanisms, charting orbital mechanics, and a host of other things. It is you who would make space exploration happen.

    I don't know how good the program is at Arizona State, so I encourage you to broaden your options. I'm not familiar with other schools, but Texas A&M and University of Texas at Austin are two of the finest aerospace engineering schools in existence. Don't be turned off by the cowboy attitude, it has its positives!

    Oh, and an interesting consequence of going for engineering is that you are totally and completely marketable with just a masters, unless you're interested in taking a teaching position later on.
  4. Jul 27, 2010 #3
    What do you mean by 'space exploration'?

    To get a job that involves working with anything to do with space, a physics and/or astronomy degree is a good start. There are hundreds of different jobs that might be considered to be space-related out there, it really depends what you want to do.

    For instance, there are companies that design and build satellites and the like. Would something like that interest you? Something like that wouldn't be a research position - it would be engineering focussed and so a degree in EEE, aeronautics or physics would suit. If you wanted to design and work with spacecraft as well, a degree in aeronautics would be the way to do.

    Also considering astronomy research positions - solar physics as an example. These guys can either be theory or experimental. Theorists might be plasma physics specialists, for example, and will be heavy on math and modelling. Experimentalists will use data from satellites we have observing the sun - clean the data up and find ways of extracting information from it.

    A more physics-type position that can be considered as 'space' related would be something like gravitational wave research. There are a multitude of positions in research for this field - you can help with the design of future detectors, understand them for maintenance of current ones. You can work on noise-problems, finding ways to maximise the information we can get from a given detector.

    Physicists and astronomers (depending on their research interest, and lots of other things) will be the ones that get trained in how to use/direct - to 'fly'- certain satellites so they can make their observations.

    Lastly, you mentioned 'unfortunately this programme has more math' - why is that a bad thing? :smile: With all of those degrees, possibly excluding planetary science, math is going to be the cornerstone of the next few years of your life. Aeronatucs math gets very messy and math in physics and astronomy is certainly very difficult in later years.
  5. Jul 27, 2010 #4
    @Angry Citizen
    That's great! Should I do astronautical engineering as my undergraduate then? It's extremely interesting for me and I would LOVE to but would I be employable in that field for a few years until I would save up enough to go back and get a masters? I'll make sure that I check out some of the other programs, it's just that it would be so expensive for me to go there considering that it would be non-resident tuition which is SO EXPENSIVE. I guess I could just get a student loan that i'll pay off for the rest of my life. I am planning on going on to grad school, so is it important where I get my undergraduate from? I hear a lot of people say "Oh it's just an undergrad, it doesn't matter where it's from just that you have it", and such. I think I'm more interested in doing an engineering related field as an actual job but when learning I think I find the more scientific aspect of it the most interesting... but then again I havin't even been in an engineering class yet so what do I know!

    By space exploration I mean rocket design, and manned space exploration and related fields. I don't think I'm as interested in doing things related to space probes/satellites and unmanned space missions. About the "more math" thing, I was just saying I don't want to do a math major and although I'm good at it I don't really enjoy it as much as Physics/Chemistry where you apply it. Obviously in this field I'm going to have to learn upper division mathematics past advanced calculus eventually, I know it's possible for me to learn! It's just somewhat intimidating for me :P

    Would it be a good idea for me to go to the University of British of Columbia or University of Saskatchewan for 2 years of general engineering and then transfer credit down to somewhere like Arizona State University or UTexas@Austin for the last 2 years in Aerospace/Astronautics? That way it would save about $50,000 and make it possible for me to graduate from an amazing school while still being able to do the field I'm actually interested in pursuing (which would be Aero/Astro Engineering) without having a student loan for the rest of my life and being stressed about money all the time.

    Thanks guys for the input, I really do appreciate it!
    -Sam Reid
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2010
  6. Jul 27, 2010 #5
    Aerospace engineers are extremely employable, and they come out of their undergrad commanding some of the highest entry level salaries available (around 60k on average). You can get a job just about anywhere in order to work your way towards your dream job.

    Not as much as some people think, but I personally believe it's all about the education you receive. 'Better' programs are tougher programs. They're more rigorous and you'll be better prepared for whatever grad school you take on. It won't greatly affect your ability to get into grad school, but it'll make you a better engineer.

    Engineering is pretty versatile. You can go a practical route and get things like bachelors of engineering (as opposed to bachelors of science) which are more focused towards industry, or you can take a research route and go for your Ph.D. The research route would focus more on R&D instead of design application.
  7. Jul 27, 2010 #6
    Extremely employable even in the space sector? I wouldn't want to do Aerospace Engineering to do with airplanes, etc. I want to specifically do Astronautical Engineering and relating it to working in a job that works with rockets/spacecraft, etc. not commercial airplanes!

    Say I do a bachelor of science degree in physics, can I take a graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering? Or if I did an undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics/Aerospace Engineering could I do a graduate degree in Physics?
  8. Jul 27, 2010 #7
    Well, for obvious reasons the market fluctuates, so don't really count on a NASA job... but you could work at SpaceX or similar companies (that's what I'm shooting for -- privatization is the way of the future). Such companies WILL hire you.
  9. Jul 27, 2010 #8
    I too am very interested in a career in designing and building propulsion systems for space travel. And by space travel, I mean putting humans into space. The XCOR for example, is pretty awesome. I just recently learned of the CSXT, and thought to myself "Why am *I* not doing that?"

    I am a 27 y/o junior in the University of Washington and going for my BS in Mathematics. This fall I will begin my physics series (a little late, I know- but it's been a long time coming). I'm thinking about hedging my bets with actuarial studies, but as I am starting to see the the end of the tunnel (a year or two off, but still) I don't want to commit myself to learning something "just for the money" (that'd be the actuarial stuff).

    If anybody knows of any companies in the seattle area that support propulsion R&D (other than Boeing... they're kind of a big thing...), I'd be much obliged to know of any internship possibilities open to a math guy with some physics background.
  10. Jul 30, 2010 #9
    I've decided what I want to do.

    Spend 2 years at the University of Saskatchewan and cover all of the Engineering courses that are required to satiate the requirements for entering the 3rd and 4th year of an Astronautical/Aerospace Engineering program at a University in the United States. While at University of Saskatchewan I would also get an Astronomy minor if it is possible.

    Would if be possible to get 2 years of Engineering + Astronomy Minor at U of S and then transfer to either ASU or U of A or UTexas@Austin, etc. to finish the 3rd and 4th year in Astronautical Engineering.

    I would graduate with an Undergraduate in Astronautical Engineering with a Minor in Astronomy. Is this possible to do in 4 years or would it take 5?

    Or maybe do 2.5 years at U of S and get enough requirement courses to enter into the Astronautical Engineering program at a school in the states and graduate with an Astronomy Minor then transfer all of that to a school in the states and finish 1.5 years there which would reduce cost and graduate with the same credentials as above.

    Is this possible?
  11. Jul 30, 2010 #10
    That's probably something you would have to work out. Get the course requirements for whatever degree you are looking for and figure up how many classes you can take during a semester, then work out the length of time it will take.

    Taking classes during the summer can drastically decrease the amount of time you spend in school. I guess it's just assumed that most people will take the summer off.
  12. Jul 30, 2010 #11
    I would love to get any classes I could done during a spring or summer semester but if I'm not a full-time student I need to be working at a job full-time to help pay for tuition/educational costs. I want to try my best not to get a student loan, I've been saving up since grade 9 and I have $11,000 ready to go. I worked every summer full-time since I was 14! Hopefully I can get my parents to help me out with tuition, that's the big one.
  13. Aug 9, 2010 #12

  14. Aug 9, 2010 #13
    11k is no small change. In '01 I started at University of Washington and had only 4k saved up. I rode on student loans and parent loans, but the 4k lasted me damn near the whole year. Working over the summer helped out alot too. Another 4k that summer :)

    Something that they don't tell you- cultivating relationships is at least as important as the classes themselves. In order of importance:
    1) business relationships
    2) learning
    3) grades
  15. Aug 15, 2010 #14
    Yes, I'm for sure going to try and balance my University experience and not focus strictly on grades.

    Would getting a Bsc (Honors) Physics major be a good idea for getting a lot of general base knowledge and experience so that I could eventually go into the Space Industry if I take a Graduate degree in something related to it?
  16. Aug 18, 2010 #15
    I see you've only mentioned universities on the west coast. Are you not aware that Ontario and Quebec has some of the best Aerospace/Astronomy/Physics degrees in Canada? Not to mention, you'd be saving a lot of time and money staying in Canada to do your studies. You could always land a job with the CSA when your done. Some universities in Ontario that offer a B.End in Aerospace are: Ryerson University (Toronto), U of T (Toronto), McGill University (about 1hr away from Toronto), Carleton University (Ottawa). I personaly attend Carleton University in Aerospace Engineering and I must tell you that so far, I've enjoyed my program. You basicaly have four different streams to branch into after 1st year. Those are A - Propulsion, Aerodynamics & Vehicle Design, B - Aerospace Structures & Materials, C - Electrical Systems and the newest stream D - Space Design (focuses primarily on satellites, space vehicle propulsion, and mission planning).
  17. Aug 18, 2010 #16
    I would to take stream D but Ottawa is really far away from Calgary and I've heard that Carleton isn't a very good University. Would you recommend the program to to other people? And what year are you in?
  18. Aug 18, 2010 #17
    well what about Engineering Science at U of T, it has an aerospace option and is (arguably) the best engineering program in Canada. You can also consider Queens engineering...

    Also U of T has a great physics program ( I will be attending this fall). I mean compared to the US these are cheaper and closer options. (Unless you have a scholarship for the US). Also McGill has a great physics program.

    I don't know what limits your options but you should check these out.
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