Setting a Course for Careers in the Space Industry

6 min to read
A young smiling student in a grey shirt is painting a foam model of the solar system for a STEM project.

Candidates for America’s first class of astronauts needed the courage to sit on top of a 36-story container of explosives waiting for the fuse to be lit, as the author Tom Wolfe put it.  

Sixty-one years later, the right stuff for space-related jobs is a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).   

Of course, courage—along with an advanced STEM degree—remains an indispensable quality for the men and women who fly into the final frontier. But there are just 48 active-duty astronauts. Behind them, however, are tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians who help make their trips into space possible.  

Moreover, as private launch companies such as SpaceX and Boeing encroach on NASA’s monopoly, thousands of more space-related careers will open. The U.S. Space Force is already recruiting engineers, analysts, space operations and systems managers, and cyber systems experts, plus the unmanned, deep-space research missions.   

STEM professionals have kept the twin Voyager probes aloft for 44 years, and they continue to send back data from 12 billion miles away. NASA’s Mars Rover and SpaceX are working on putting humans on Mars, and Rocket Lab is aiming for the first privately funded fly-by of Venus.   

Jobs Involving Space: What Are Some Career Paths?

Students often aspire to become NASA astronauts, and the space agency encourages them to follow that dream. But, the fact is, becoming a star voyaging astronaut is a longshot.   

Only 13 were chosen out of the 18,300 applicants for NASA’s most recent astronaut training class. Their career tracks include service as Army, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Marine Corps combat pilots. Academically, they hold advanced degrees in medicine, electrical, nuclear and aeronautic engineering, computer science, geobiology, aeronautics, and astronautics.   

On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of STEM careers that can launch a space-related career. 

What Are Science Specializations That Can Lead to Space-Related Jobs?

NASA relies on scientists in 15 specialties in physics, earth sciences, and life sciences to guide its research into what makes the universe work to helping astronauts currently conducting research in space and everything in between.   

NASA science careers include:   


Astrophysicists, including astronomers who study the places space travelers cannot (yet) reach. Astronomers analyze electromagnetic data collected by earthbound telescopes, satellites, and deep-space probes. The analysis aims to expand understanding of the cosmos, how the universe began, and how it is evolving.   

Earth Scientists

Earth scientists such as meteorologists develop models based on data collected by satellites, radar, and high-altitude weather balloons to improve the reliability of global weather forecasting and climate change analysis. NASA meteorologists collaborate with other federal agencies to research topics such as hurricane formation and intensification and the impact of large-scale environmental events on weather.    

Plasma Physicists

Plasma physicists study what looks like the emptiness of space between observable planets, stars, and other structures. The void is actually full of a gas called plasma, which is comprised of atomic and subatomic matter. NASA researchers study plasma applications to produce high-velocity thrust and spacecraft fuel efficiency. 

Kids can start building the foundation for these and other science careers as early as second grade. For instance, Connections Academy® remote learning science activities get young students excited about physics, chemistry, geology, and life sciences.   

Connections Academy family creating a solar system diorama.

What Technology Concentrations Are Needed for Employment in Space-Related Jobs?

Technology is baked into everything NASA does, from flight operations and scientific research to managing its $28 billion budget, 17,000 employees, and hundreds of contractors. The space agency’s technology professionals fill roles to support all of those operations, including: 

Information Technology

Information Technology (IT) professionals are tasked with collecting, organizing, storing, and analyzing the mind-boggling amount of data that NASA generates daily—more than 12 terabytes. Computer scientists are key players in advancing the development of systems to sustain human life off-planet, deliver cargo through the solar system, build next-generation vehicles, and observe the deepest regions of space.  

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies use mathematical algorithms that can update themselves as fast as they acquire new data. Unlike computer programming, which requires human intervention, AI mimics the brain’s ability to learn. NASA is experimenting with AI to track asteroids. Before AI, astronomers’ understanding of asteroids was limited to 3D models. AI enables scientists to understand the physical properties of space objects.  


Cybersecurity technology protects NASA’s enormous volumes of data, management information system networks, computers, and software. Its information security analysts find and correct vulnerabilities to prevent breaches and virus contamination as well as maintain disaster recovery and operational continuity protocols. Hackers find NASA a prime target for, among other things, its advanced technology development and contractor information. 

What Are Some Engineering Jobs That Have to Do with Space?

NASA engineers come from 20 different areas of specialization. Engineers use a process similar to the scientific method to analyze problems, consider possible causes and solutions, and test them. The space agency requires its engineers to have technical know-how but also important life skills that can be acquired through STEM education. Some of the work engineers do at the agency includes: 

Systems Engineers

Systems Engineers focus on developing and refining innovative processes that improve functionality, efficiency, and safety. Among other things, NASA’s systems engineers work on space suits, which are systems comprising communications, avionics, software, and power technology. The next-generation space suits will be used for space walks outside the International Space Station and on long-duration missions on the Moon and to Mars. 

Computer Engineers

Computer Engineers bridge the gap between data science and electrical engineering to design, build, and maintain computer hardware. At NASA, they play a key role in robotics with projects such as the Space Shuttle’s payload arm and the ongoing Mars Rover research mission. While the engineers aren’t on the Red Planet with Rover, they do command its operations—including the launch and recovery of its helicopter—from mission control.  

Electrical Engineers

Electrical Engineers solve power problems for NASA. Among other things, they look for ways to limit the risk of solar storm damage to spacecraft, their electrical systems, and the people inside of them, as well as ways to mitigate those threats. Electrical Engineers also play key roles in developing aviation electronics for space flight, antenna systems that transmit data between earth and spacecraft, and testing any system that generates or consumes electricity.   

Working on a stem robot coding project

How Can Students Prepare for Jobs in the Space Industry?

While many brick-and-mortar schools are trying to catch up with the STEM wave in education, Connections Academy offers online STEM virtual labs that can be tailored for any grade level as well as dual-enrollment opportunities to help high schoolers accelerate their college careers.  

Learn more about how Connections Academy tuition-free online public-school education gets students future-ready by visiting its Resource Hub, downloading its complementary eGuide, or attending a live virtual information session with parents, Learning Coaches, and teachers.  

To learn more about jobs in the space industry, explore NASA Internship Programs, K-12 STEM Resources for Educators, and STEM Engagement Activities.  


NASA: Internship Programs, Explore STEM Resources for K-12 Educators, STEM Engagement

Texas Instruments: STEM Behind NASA  

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: STEM Careers and Space Careers 

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