Decades of children have idolized astronauts and dreamed of a possible future in space. In July, NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to earth. The craft has the distinction of being the first reusable shuttle, and the last scheduled human flight in space on American craft. The decision to end NASA’s Constellation program is bittersweet. It means an end of an era, but changes at NASA create opportunities for private sector involvement. Business entrepreneurs and inquisitive individuals with an engineering degree can sustain the dream of space exploration and discovery.
NASA brings up thoughts of nostalgia and pride for most Americans. Since President Eisenhower signed the Space Act in 1958, NASA put the first man on the moon, sent a man orbiting around Earth and put the first woman into space to stay on the space station. Many NASA innovations became everyday conveniences, such as freeze-dried foods, scratch resistant eyeglass lenses and the ear thermometer. With the end of the Constellation program, Americans have no means of going into space on American shuttles.
Though disappointing, the decision to cut the program was made in order to enable a brighter future for space exploration with an emphasis on humans to land on asteroids by 2025. NASA is working on a multi-purpose crew vehicle for that reason. It is working on the Juno spacecraft to explore Jupiter, and furthering developments on the International Space Station. American astronauts can still go into space as passengers on other nations’ craft.
The challenges at NASA are converting it from a completely government-funded and operated agency. The private sector has a future working with NASA, and start-ups may be able to benefit. Business entrepreneurs who are willing to be pioneers in the new system may see success if they can develop engineering companies offering better services at lower rates.
Engineers and the Space Industry
NASA is still hiring engineers to work on its projects, although the economy is difficult and NASA’s budget is smaller than in the past. Engineers may be able to profit by staying in the private sector and working for start-ups that contract out to NASA. A degree in mechanical engineering is a good choice if you’re sure that you want to be an engineer but you want to keep your options open. It’s a more general degree that you can use to get into any industry.
A degree in aeronautical and aerospace engineering can propel your aerospace career forward. Purdue University is known as the Cradle of Astronauts because of its excellent reputation. Your coursework for the degree will cover aerodynamics, propulsion and spacecraft design.
Despite the end of NASA’s Constellation program, the future of the U.S. in space is far from over. NASA continues to be engaged in cutting-edge research to improve the aeronautics and technology industries and to develop new machines and devices for future missions to space. The shift from being entirely government-run to opening up to the private sector can promote advances in science and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs and engineers with a passion.