When you think of careers in space, what comes to mind? I’m going to take a wild guess and assume it’s an astronaut, am I right? Not only do they get all the attention, but every space nut wants to become one so they can one day too be sent up into space. But what about the people who make it possible for astronauts to do this? No one ever talks about them.
Behind every astronaut, there is an army of people with a variety of jobs that make flying into space possible. From the ground team that controls the mission, to the scientists that bring forward experiments that will be tested on the International Space Station (ISS), to the engineers who design and build the rockets and space crafts that house the astronauts on their journey – they all play a very significant role in each mission.
What does it take to become an astronaut?
As you can imagine being an astronaut requires a lot, and I mean A LOT of training as the job is very demanding. Here are some things required by astronauts:
- Must be very knowledge in a very wide variety of subject areas
- Skilled problem solvers
- Capable of undertaking scientific research
- Accomplished public speakers
- capable of handling extremely complex tasks while under physical, emotional and time pressure.
According to Dr. Thirsk, former University of Calgary Alumni and member of Canada’s first astronaut class who holds the Canadian record for longest time in space at 204 days and 18 hours, “Space flight and the training for it is not easy. A combination of engineering and medical background is very well-suited to solving some of the problems that still linger out there in making space flight safer and easier.” He continues, stating “Psychological profile is also important. You’re working in a team setting in an isolated and confined environment. Teamwork, leadership, followership, self-management, vision, decisiveness – these are the soft skills that space agencies are looking for.”
So far, I’d say it sounds like quite the challenging job, probably too challenging for many of us. If it was that easy, every space fan would be training to be an astronaut. But don’t let this ruin the dream of being involved in the space industry, being an astronaut isn’t the only job available. As long as you have a passion for space, you may be able to be apart of it. So let’s take a small step back to where you could begin.
In the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) 2016 astronaut recruitment campaign, one of the requirements for the position was a university education in science, engineering or medicine. If this is something you’re interested in, the University of Calgary offers these programs, and many others that could help make your dream of being apart of the space industry come true. You could follow in Dr. Thirsk’s footsteps, who received a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.
Where can you look for a job in the space industry? There are a variety of jobs at NASA (and other space agencies) that might be down your alley, and for many, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist. From video producers and professional photographers, to lawyers and public affairs officers, you will be surprised at what jobs are available.
If this interests you, NASA has a careers page for students. This page offers a variety of jobs and fields of study which will give a general list of appropriate academic fields of study for aerospace technology positions. Unfortunately, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you cannot apply to NASA. However, if you are Canadian, the CSA lists jobs and opportunities you can check out on its careers page.
photo credit: Canadian Space Agency
Residing in another country? There are 70 government space agencies and numerous private space organizations worldwide, so be sure to research which ones you can apply to.
If you want more information on what it takes to become an astronaut or involved in the space industry, you can learn what Dr. Thirsk and other University of Calgary Alumni went through on their path to making their dreams a reality.
Generally, space flight and exploration were the domain of governments, with space agencies being funded by member countries and astronauts representing their countries. Now we have private space companies popping up all over the world that are playing a big role in human space exploration.
This new era is referred to in the space community as New Space, which according to Dr. Thirsk, “It basically means commercial space flight. Companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada, even Boeing are developing space systems and launch systems that can get people into space quickly and for relatively low cost.”
Have you noticed that many resupply missions to the ISS lately have been from SpaceX?