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.