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If you have a desire to work in space exploration and plenty of scientific curiosity, a number of degrees could prepare you for work as a NASA scientist. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration seeks scientists with various educational backgrounds to help further the scientific community’s understanding of space and the universe.
Degree Options for Aspiring Astronauts
A bachelor’s degree in the physical and biological sciences can help you qualify for the astronaut candidate program. However, most NASA scientists complete their work from locations on Earth, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of the 17,000 workers employed by NASA, just 45 are active astronauts, the BLS reported.
Astronomy is the scientific study of the objects that compose the universe. Astronomers address questions about the stars, planets, comets, galaxies and other celestial bodies. To gather and evaluate data, astronomers use telescopes on Earth and probes that have been launched into space.
A degree program in astronomy includes coursework in introductory through advanced astronomy, computer science and mathematics classes such as statistics, linear algebra and calculus, according to the BLS. If you want to work with NASA studying the mysteries of the universe, a bachelor’s degree won’t be enough. You will need a Ph.D. in astronomy to work for the government space exploration entity. In your graduate-level work, you may choose an academic concentration in a subfield like planetary astronomy, stellar astronomy, galactic astronomy or cosmology, the origins of the universe.
If you have never thought about weather phenomena in space, perhaps you should. Atmospheric scientists who work for NASA think about weather and climate events in outer space all the time. These scientists use equipment such as satellite images, radar systems and weather balloons to forecast weather and climate events in both the near future and the distant future. Just as broadcast meteorologists develop the local weather forecasts that appear on television and radio news, atmospheric scientists who work in the field of space exploration use data to predict what weather and climate changes will occur beyond the Earth.
Unlike astronomers and physicists, atmospheric scientists can qualify for employment with NASA with just a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring atmospheric scientists will take courses in subjects such as meteorology, computer programming, advanced mathematics and advanced physics, the BLS reported.
Physicists study matter. In the field of space exploration, plasma physicists are the most sought-after types of physicists. Plasma physicists focus their scientific inquiries on a state of matter called plasmas. The same state of matter that is manufactured for use on neon signs and television screens occurs naturally in stars and other bodies in space, the BLS reported. In particular, plasma physicists working in space exploration research the properties of naturally occurring plasma in space to learn more about matter in space as well as how it affects life on Earth.
Like astronomers, physicists who aspire to a role working at NASA need an advanced degree. A bachelor’s degree in physics often includes coursework in math and the natural sciences. Some of the subjects physics students will study at the undergraduate level include optics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism and classical and quantum mechanics, according to the BLS. At the graduate and doctoral levels, physics programs might offer students the opportunity to focus on a subfield like plasma physics, astrophysics or matter physics.
Scientists in all specialties play an important role in space exploration. If you want to work for NASA, you will need to stand out in whatever field of science you choose to study.