Astronaut | Ponder


Space is a growing industry. Once upon a time the only way to get into the industry was to work for the government, but now some of the world’s biggest and brightest minds are focused on commercialising space. Which means more jobs and more opportunities.

The bad news is that most of those opportunities at this point are overseas.

Want to stay in Australia? The Government has committed to establishing an Australian Space Agency in the near future. It’s a safe bet that with the continued global expansion of the industry more jobs will be created as a result of this Agency, and while we don’t have any specifics yet about the people they will need we can make some assumptions, based on the skills and qualifications sought by overseas agencies.

Find out more about Australian Civil Space

Salary Range: The sky’s the limit, literally. Expect to earn a lot.

Future Growth: The industry is growing quickly, but most of the jobs are still based in the US.

The first step is a degree
Many Australian Universities offer Aerospace Engineering degrees, and you can expect to study for at least 4 years. If you take a dual degree, which might increase your chances of success in job applications, you could extend your study time to 5 years plus. Consider a dual degree in maths, computer science, or even management.
All degrees will include placements and team projects to make sure you’re ready for the workplace.

The Australian Defence Force also offers training programs, including degrees, for people who want to become Aeronautical Engineers or Pilots. If you choose pilot you could possibly still study Engineering, before becoming a pilot.

NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA is the USA’s space authority, and still at the forefront of the industry. They have a list of their main occupations which shows us the sorts of skills they look for. Here are the main job types:

Engineering and Scientific –

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Biology
  • Computer science and engineering
  • Meteorology

Professional –

  • Accounting
  • Legal
  • Administration – including contract and budgeting specialists
  • Public affairs

Support roles –

  • Admin and secretarial
  • Electronics and engineering technicians

Note: NASA very rarely employ anyone who isn’t a US citizen. Andy Thomas, the famous Australian astronaut, became a US citizen with the aim of joining their program. And because of US Government regulations, you also need to be a US citizen to work for any of the private space companies, such as Space X.

Space X say: “To conform to U.S. Government space technology export regulations, applicant must be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident of the U.S., protected individual as defined by 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3), or eligible to obtain the required authorizations from the U.S. Department of State. Learn more about ITAR here.” 

But all is not lost
It’s quite possible that this won’t always be the case. The industry is evolving rapidly, and Australia’s new space agency may offer not only a chance to get to space, but collaboration which would allow you to work on the International Space Station, or even to work for one of the private sector companies if/when they begin operating in Australia.

There is already a large amount of space infrastructure in Australia (have you seen ‘The Dish’?), and with projects like the Square Kilometre Array coming online (it’s a next gen radio telescope being built in remote Australia, and the project involves over 20 countries), it’s likely that we’ll see an expansion in the sector.

If you’re still at school, then you have years in which you could get a great degree and start preparing for a future in space while the industry expands. In fact, as jobs are so competitive, to even be able to apply as an astronaut to NASA you need a degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics, plus at least 3 years professional experience or 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft.

There’s a great article here from the ABC on how to become an astronaut – put simply, you’ve got lots of time between now and when you’re likely to be a candidate, and in that time the industry may look completely different to how it does right now.

Work in the private sector

There are a number of major companies doing amazing, cutting-edge work in space right now, here are three of the biggest companies:

Space X
SpaceX was founded under the belief that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not. Today SpaceX is actively developing the technologies to make this possible, with the ultimate goal of enabling human life on Mars.

Blue Origin
At Blue Origin, it’s our genuine passion for space exploration that makes an incredibly difficult job equally exhilarating. We’re looking for people who share that passion.

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic is comprised of hundreds of dedicated and passionate professionals united in creating something new and lasting: the world’s first commercial spaceline.

What comes next?

This isn’t a career path that’s easy to predetermine. Basically, you have to be prepared to work ridiculously hard, make sacrifices, and do well. But as the industry expands, more opportunities will arise that don’t fit into what you’d call ‘astronaut work’. Space X has declared their goal is to send a cargo mission to Mars by 2022 – just 4 years away – and from there they plan on establishing a base which will need a huge array of people, including cooks, telecommunications specialists, medical staff, and miners just to name a few.

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