So you want a career in space?

OK, I don’t actually mean a career in outer space – although it is a possibility. There are many kids (and adults) who dream about being an astronaut but the reality is that it will only happen to a tiny fraction of them. That doesn’t mean to say that they can’t have a career that involves them in space. In fact, unless you have a lot of money, the only way to become an astronaut is to study STEM subjects, whether it is at school, university, or on the job.

Let’s take the example of Tim Peake, an astronaut in training at the European Space Agency. He talks about his experiences here. By the way, the caption says he is the UKs first astronaut, which isn’t true (look it up). Tim was a pilot in the Army, a career where a good grounding in mathematics and physics is important. As he says in the clip, astronauts are just the tip of an iceberg when it comes to the variety of people involved.

Most jobs in space will require education to degree level but there are many subjects that could lead you in the right direction: physics, mathematics, engineering, computer science, medicine, earth science, chemistry, biology, geography, environmental science and no doubt more I haven’t immediately thought of. With an undergraduate degree you could either go into industry (e.g. designing satellites) or you could continue at university to post-graduate level. If you take a typical science mission, the satellite will be built by industry and the scientific instruments on board will be built by universities.

If you don’t have a degree then there are still opportunities available – many companies now offer apprenticeships, with the opportunity for more education on the job. Many highly skilled technicians are needed at the assembly and integration stages of instruments and satellites.

Of course, all these scientists, engineers and technicians still require support from human resources, finance, legal (space is very complicated, legally), technical authors, graphic designers…

The UK space industry is expanding (like the universe), so the opportunities are out there. To find out more, take a look at the ESERO website, which has lists of universities and companies involved in space.

There are also some case studies at the UK Space Agency website.