Resources, Advice & Tips for Covid-19
Read More

Careers in Space Science

Sally Painter
International space station

While astronauts are the first professionals that come to mind when most people think about careers in space science, there are numerous other employment opportunities in this field. If you're interested in working in a field that involves studying the planets, the solar system, and other aspects of the universe, consider investigating the many opportunities for careers in space science.

Astronauts

Astronauts make up only a very small number of all space science workers. Every country that operates a space exploration program has a limited number of career opportunities for astronauts.

Training and Competition for Open Positions

Individuals who want to pursue careers as astronauts must undergo rigorous training and meet stringent physical fitness criteria. Competition for these positions is fierce, and only the most outstanding candidates are likely to be accepted into their country's astronaut training program.

Education and Salary

Astronauts must be degreed, and their formal education should be in a field related to science or mathematics. Graduate degrees are preferred, and many astronauts have earned master's or doctoral degrees. According to NASA, civilian astronauts earn an annual salary between GS-12 salary grade of around $65,000 to the GS-13 salary grade that goes up the $100,701. Experience is the determining factor for pay grade.

Other Important Requirements

Additionally, individuals interested in becoming astronauts must be experienced pilots and must possess nearly perfect visual acuity. There are also height and weight requirements for acceptance into an astronaut training program. Specifics about NASA's astronaut selection and training program are available on the NASA website. Details about becoming an astronaut in Canada can be found on the Canadian Astronaut Office's website.

Engineers

While it is the astronaut who travels to outer space that gets most of the public's attention, it is the engineer who makes space exploration travel possible. In addition to designing spacecrafts, space vehicles and space stations, engineers also create the space satellites that help us better understand the weather and climate conditions that impact people's daily lives. Unless otherwise indicated, the wage information for all following careers is taken from the U.S. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers work on flight and the various flight activities within an atmosphere and space. Aerospace engineers use science and technologies that addresses aircraft and spacecraft development, design, testing and production. They also work on satellites and missiles and focus on any equipment and systems needed to support these functions. Aerospace and aeronautical engineer are incorrectly used interchangeably. According to Penn State, an aeronautical engineer works on flight and the various flight activities within an atmosphere only.

Education and Salary

You will need a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related engineering or science field. If you work on government projects, such as national defense, then you'll be required to have a security clearance. The mean annual salary is $115,000.

Computer Engineers

Computer engineers work to develop and design new technologies and applications that can be used for aerospace computer systems. You may choose to work in the R&D (research and development) department where you build these specialized computer models to test for future space applications.

Education and Salary

A bachelor's degree in computer engineering is preferred, although many companies accept degrees in computer science or other related field. Mean annual salary is $114,000.

Materials Engineers

Materials engineers develop products for aerospace applications. They test various materials to ensure they can be successfully used to make products suitable for space. You may work in an office and/or an R&D facility.

Education and Salary

You'll need a bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering or a related engineering field. The mean annual salary is $92,000.

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers are responsible for developing, designing, building, and testing all types of mechanical devices and sensors as well as thermal ones

Education and Salary

You'll need a bachelor's degree preferably in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. In some instances, you may be required to be licensed, if you intend to work for the public. The mean annual salary is $87,000.

Robotics Engineers

A robotic engineer designs robots. This includes constructing the robot and programming it. You will collect the data from the robots and analyze it. You'll also provide technical support for the robots, especially debugging any of the computer programs driving the robots.

Robotic engineers working on industrial robotic arm

Education and Salary

You'll need a bachelor's degree in robotics engineering, an engineering specialty, robotics and autonomous systems, mechanical engineering, or related field. According to Recruiter, the average annual salary is around $88,000.

Telecommunications Engineers

A telecommunications engineer designs and develops electronic systems, electronic circuits and their components. These are used for telecommunications but can also be used in aerospace guidance systems as well as propulsion control. The BLS classifies telecommunications engineers as electronic engineers.

Education and Salary

You'll need a bachelor's degree in electronic engineering. According to the BLS, the median annual salary is $107,000. However, PayScale reports the median salary is $78,000.

Space Scientists

Many scientists choose to pursue research and development careers in space science. For example, many pharmacology researchers are investigating ways to develop new medications from substances discovered during space exploration trips. Again, wage statistics are based on BLS information unless otherwise noted.

Astrophysicists

An astrophysicist is defined as an astronomer who studies celestial objects and their physical makeup and how they interact with other space bodies. You'll conduct research and develop theories from observing and experimenting with electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and other topics. You'll create various methods for testing and applying physics theories. You'll need a PhD either in astrophysics or astronomy. If you're interest is in R&D, then you can pursue this career with a master's degree in either field. The median annual salary is $119,000.

Biologists

A biologist researches how spaceflight affects those living in a spacecraft or the ISS (International Space Station). Through experiments, in space and on Earth, you can gain a better understanding of how space affects the human metabolism, development and even reproduction in preparation for space missions and exploration. Conducting biological experiments in space provides useful information that can be used in Earth applications as well as space missions. Entry level positions require a bachelor's degree, preferably in biology. If you seek higher pay grade positions, then you'll need a master's degree. A PhD will open doors to a lead researcher or a university career. The median annual salary is $63,000.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists are concerned with the chemical and physical aspects of all things and their biological actions and processes. If you choose either one of these careers you will perform experiments, collect the data, analyze, and draw conclusions. You'll need a PhD in your chosen field to move beyond an entry level position. While you can launch your career with just a bachelor's or master's degree, many people go on to earn their doctorate. The median annual salary is $93,000.

Biochemist using microscope for analysis

Geoscientists

A geoscientist studies and analyzes the various physical nature of the Earth. This includes, solid matter, liquid and gaseous aspects of Earth and other planets. You will need a bachelor's degree in geology or other earth science. You'll want to continue your education to earn a master's degree. Some people go on to earn their PhD. The median annual salary is $91,000.

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons examine, diagnose, and treat patient injuries and diseases. In a space career, you'll find work within the government. You will need a bachelor of science degree in biology or related field. You'll then attend medical school for four years. Once you graduate medical school, you'll go into your residency for hands on learning and practice as a doctor and select an area of specialty. Residency can take three to seven years, depending on your specialty. The median annual salary is $208,000.

Atmospheric Scientists and Meteorologists

Atmospheric scientists and meteorologists study, examine, collect data, and evaluate the weather and climate on Earth. Careers in space science would also include other planets. You'll need a bachelor's degree in atmospheric science or a related field. You can launch your career with a bachelor's degree, but you'll need to earn a master's degree and in some cases, you'll need a PhD. The median annual salary is $94,000.

Technologist and Technician Positions

In addition to the engineers who design space science technology and the scientists who specialize in making sense of what is discovered in outer space, technologists and technicians play an important role in the field of space science. These individuals work closely with the engineers and scientists to build, test, and perfect various types of space technology and innovations. Wage information, unless otherwise noted, is from the BLS.

Telecommunications Technicians

Telecommunications technicians work with communication equipment. You'll be responsible for installing, setting up equipment, installation, repairs, and maintenance of all communication devices. You'll need some form of education, a certificate or associate's degree in telecommunications, electronics, and/or computer technology. On-the-job training will be part of your technical education. Medina annual salary is $56,000.

AutoCAD Operator

An AutoCAD operator You'll use CAD Software to create designs and technical drawings created by architects and engineers. You'll work with a computer most of the time, but may do fieldwork to assist engineers and architects. You'll need an associate degree in AutoCAD. Some jobs require a bachelor's degree. You can earn certifications, although not required, to give you a competitive advantage in the job market. The median annual salary is $55,000.

AutoCAD operator

Electricians

Electricians work with electrical power by installing, maintaining and repairing all wiring systems and controls, such as lighting and communication systems. You'll need to select the educational path best suited for you. Some certificate programs are offered in electrical technology. You may choose an associate degree program. Another path into this career is through an apprenticeship program usually four-years long that offers pay, classes and on-the-job training while you learn. The median annual salary is $55,000.

Laser Technicians

Laser technicians assemble, calibrate, test, operate, troubleshoot, and maintain laser equipment and devices with laser technology. On-the-job training is offered for some positions. Most technicians earn an associate degree while others opt for a bachelor's degree in electronics or related field. The median annual salary is $64,000.

Quality Assurance Specialists

Quality assurance specialists inspect and examine materials, products, equipment, and other devices for any type of defects or irregularities from specifications. You'll need a high school diploma. Most positions offer on-the-job training that can range from a month to a year, depending on the industry. The median annual salary is $38,000.

Radar and Sonar Technicians

A radar or sonar technician is responsible for the radar equipment that includes computer/communication systems. You'll calibrate, install, operate, repair, and maintain the integrated systems to ensure the data is correct. You'll be responsible for testing and measuring the instruments and components that track positions of space vehicles. You'll need to complete technical school training and/or on-the-job training through an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approved institute or program. PayScale says the median annual salary is $55,000.

Robotic Technicians

A robotic technician works with single task or multi-tasking robotic machines. You'll work with schematics and various computer programs You'll be responsible for the testing, calibration, installation, repairs, troubleshooting, operation, and maintenance. You'll need an associate degree in robot technology or electrical maintenance and typically will enter an apprenticeship program. PayScale reports the median annual salary is $41k.

Satellite Technologists

A satellite technician installs, repairs and maintains satellites and related device and components. You'll be responsible for ensuring the equipment is functioning properly and troubleshoot any issues to find solutions and remedies. You'll need either an associate degree in electronics or related field or an approved certification program. Some positions offer an apprenticeship program. The median annual salary is $56,000. (The BLS classifies as telecommunications equipment installers and repairers.)

Where to Find Job Opportunities in Space Science

A few places to seek out your scientific job opportunities in space programs include:

  • NASA Jobs: Visit the NASA Jobs website to search open positions within the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and to find out how to apply for federal jobs with the agency.
  • Space Careers Job Board: The SpaceCareers.com job board has a wealth of information beneficial to individuals seeking space science career opportunities. All postings on this board are for positions working directly in space science, or performing services for companies that specialize in providing goods and services for the aerospace industry. Qualified professionals can register and post their resumes to this site and search through the listings of open positions. Employers may search resumes and post their job announcements.
  • Space Individuals: This job board provides listings of available jobs with space companies throughout the world. To review job openings, you will need to select the country you are interested in working in, and from there you can scroll through available positions. You can also register with the site to receive free emails twice per month that contain information about new job listings, employers in the space industry, articles of interest to those who are pursuing career opportunities in the industry.
  • Space Force: With the creation of the sixth branch of the military, the Space Force, new opportunities for space careers will be avialable to miliary personnel and civilians.

Pursuing a Career in Space Science

Employers who hire space science workers are looking for highly skilled applicants with very specialized training and skills. If it sounds like the space science field is the right one for you, it's important to investigate the different types of jobs that appeal to you. Use what you learn through your research to make sound decisions about getting the training you need to work in this industry. Once you have necessary qualifications, you'll be able to start applying and interviewing for positions in this rewarding field.

Careers in Space Science