NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is responsible for science and technology related to air and space. NASA engineers design and build the technology used in every field for NASA, including electronics, avionics, software and rocketry. One out of every 1,000 patents issued in the U.S. has gone to NASA project scientists. Thousands of scientific studies have been published based on results of the agency’s missions. So, what does it take to become a NASA engineer?
There are specific educational requirements listed on NASA's website. The agency also offers internships and other inroads for long term employment, including those for potential engineers.
The educational requirements are very rigorous and include a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college. The preferred majors include engineering, and NASA's site specifies that engineering technology is not considered an engineering degree. Other preferred majors are mathematics, life science or physical science. While completing your undergraduate education, you should supplement your coursework with subjects that can be applied to the Aerospace Technology specialty, AST, for which you will be applying. The NASA site provides an "Appropriate Fields of Study" category under each AST specialty.
Acceptance to a graduate program in an appropriate field can be submitted as well. If you have already completed a graduate program, then an undergraduate major from this list is acceptable if your graduate program included professional experience related to AST work and contingent on demonstration of skills, abilities and knowledge required for that position at NASA.
Fields of Study for Aerospace Technology Positions:
- Biomedical Engineering
- Ceramic Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Computer Science
- Earth and Planetary Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Electronics Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Materials Engineering
- Materials Science
- Mathematics, Applied or Pure
- Mechanics, Applied or Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Metallurgical Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering Physics
- Optical Engineering
- Physics, Applied or Engineering
- Space Science
- Structural Engineering
- Welding Engineering
The NASA site states that the coursework must include 30 semester hours of mathematics, computer science and statistics, and it should provide a firm foundation for the practical and theoretical application for computer science, mathematical and statistical techniques. In fact, of the 30 hours, 15 must be in mathematics and statistics, and must include integral and differential calculus.
From a professional angle, you should consider of one several programs at NASA designed to recognize and develop talented engineers and groom them for long-term employment at NASA.
The NASA Pathways Intern Employment Program (IEP) has three different paths to working with NASA. The program is for college students or students in a qualifying program sponsored by the agency.
Once accepted, you'll be able to get paid to work for NASA, which will teach you skills and provide experience to hopefully transition into a long-term career with NASA.
NASA has other programs for recent graduates and professional engineers wishing to work for the agency. To learn more about opportunities and requirements to become a NASA engineer, visit their website.
Becoming an engineer at NASA takes a great deal of consideration and planning. Begin preparing as early as possible in your academic career. However, do not be discouraged if you do not immediately have all the necessary requirements. If exploring the last frontier has taught us anything, one thing is for sure. With hard work and determination, anything is possible.