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If you’re interested in a career in space exploration and study, engineering is an excellent educational path to pursue. The United States government agency known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employs engineers in various disciplines. Engineers who work in space exploration work in a number of different capacities to solve problems, from designing spacecraft and hardware to developing new materials to use in the creation of spacecraft. The engineering degrees most in-demand at NASA include aerospace engineering, computer hardware engineering, electronics engineering and mechanical engineering.
Aerospace engineers working in space exploration put their engineering knowledge to work designing, building and testing spacecraft and missiles that can withstand the challenges of the space environment.
A bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering typically includes studies in aerodynamics, mechanics, stability and control, propulsion and structures as well as general engineering principles, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
Computer Hardware Engineering
NASA also employs engineers with the skills to design and construct computerized equipment used in space exploration. These engineers typically have a background in computer engineering, although some hardware engineers earn their bachelor’s degree in a related discipline such as computer science or electrical engineering.
An undergraduate degree program in computer engineering often combines computer science studies with electrical engineering principles and practices, according to the BLS.
Computers aren’t the only electrical equipment used in space exploration. To design and maintain instrument panels and other electronic equipment, engineers need a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering or a similar discipline. Students of undergraduate electronics and electrical engineering programs take classes in subjects such as electrical circuit theory, digital systems design and differential equations, the BLS reported.
Astronauts use all kinds of tools and machines during their endeavors in space. Mechanical engineers are the ones who devise and develop these products, ranging from sensors to steering mechanisms. A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering typically includes studies in math and science as well as engineering and design, according to the BLS.
What to Expect in an Engineering Education
Engineers need to understand both the theory of designing and building products that solve problems and how to put those principles into action. Regardless of specific engineering discipline, most undergraduate engineering degree programs incorporate learning in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. Students take foundational courses in engineering theory and principles, but they also spend a good deal of time designing tools, engines, electronics, computer systems and vessels and building models and prototypes of these products. Many engineering programs encourage, or even require, that students gain hands-on engineering work experience through an internship or cooperative program.
Engineering Opportunities in Space Exploration
Many of the challenges in space exploration, and the attempts to solve those problems, require input from engineers across multiple disciplines. Aspiring engineers who want to work for NASA should be creative and resourceful problem-solvers and have the interpersonal skills to work well with a team of engineers, technicians and scientists.