It’s remarkable to think of the impact that one organization can have on the world’s understanding of the cosmos. Not only is NASA responsible for landing man on the moon, it is also responsible for developing the Hubble telescope without which the scientists of Earth could never gaze upon the far off worlds that have been discovered in recent years. Far from merely being an observer, NASA’s mandate has also allowed scientists to study the chemical composition of the celestial bodies that surround us by using cleverly designed and delicately built robots.
As far as career objectives go, there is arguably no loftier goal than to work for this world renowned civilian space program. That being said, as great as it might be to land a job logging shuttle trajectories behind a workstation at Mission Control or designing the next robotic rover or space station life support system, NASA is incredibly difficult to get into; but as the saying goes, there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Consequently, this saying is no less applicable to space travel as it is when referring to the journey to finding your dream job.
How to Prepare for a Career with NASA
Remember – if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If a career at NASA is at the top of your most wanted list, you better hope that it’s something you’ve identified early on. A career at NASA means you’ll need to have a strong foundation in STEM subjects – be it mathematics, engineering, or another scientific discipline.
Regardless of age, there are many after school STEM related programs that one can take to supplement what is taught in the classroom. As you get older, online technology courses can help expose you to more specialized fields and technical subject matter.
When it comes to post-secondary studies, aim to enroll in an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited university and study courses related to the physical sciences, engineering, biology, and mathematics. While these courses can be grueling, you’ll probably want to conduct some independent study to further your breadth of knowledge.
At this point, you could probably attend some networking events and maybe try and rub some elbows with former employees, but in all likelihood, attending these types of events may difficult given your current geographical location. Instead, try to come up with a list of future projects that NASA has on the books – this will provide you with an idea of what their potential needs will be down the line, and provide you with a direction to help focus your ongoing studies.
Because NASA is a civilian and not a military space program, there is quite a bit of transparency when it comes to their projects, which means that at any given time, you can find where some of their demand for human capital will be.
Areas of Opportunity
While it’s true that many up and coming technologies will play a vital role in the future of the space program, there’s perhaps nothing that quite equals the importance (at least in the short term) than robotics. The common opinion among many of the world’s leading physicists is that we are still generations away from being able to develop a fast and cost-effective propulsion system that would make interplanetary travel possible. Even during the next manned mission to Mars, which is scheduled for 2022, you can expect that robotics will play a big part in the success of the mission.
To drive the point on robotics home, in 2014 NASA issued several grants to fund research proposals in an effort to address the significant challenges in movement their fleet of robots experiences travelling over rugged terrain. Furthermore, the space agency also identified a need for their robots to be lighter, more compact, and more multifunctional than they are now.
These grants are designed to allow the best and brightest minds to solve some of the greatest technological issues that the agency faces; and while they do overtly identify their current need is in the field of robotics, one can infer that there will be an equal demand for supportive technologies and disciplines, like EMI testing for example (a mandatory process when dealing with electronics of all kinds).
To summarize, a career with NASA is no small feat; but through hard work, a strong academic foundation in STEM subjects, passion, and a little bit of insight as to where the space agency is headed, you just might find yourself in a key role with one of the world’s most important and awe-inspiring institutions.