Over the past few years, I have been getting similar kind of questions from students, parents of students, fellow professionals and in general people who are interested in space exploration and career and/or internship opportunities in the space industry more-so at NASA. Here’s a compilation of some of the questions (in the picture) and of all my replies for you all to refer to at in one place and for me to share with everyone who might have similar questions.
1). What should I study to work for NASA or ISRO? (This mostly has been an inquiry for becoming astronaut, scientist, engineer or astronomer; even from parents of kids as young as 5 years, which I think is cool! 🙂 )
You can pick up one of your favorite STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) fields and pursue a degree in that. What is more important is picking something that you will love working on all your life and will never ever get tired of.
To apply to the astronaut program you need to have a Bachelors in one of the STEM areas, although most astronauts NASA selected have been PhD’s.
To be an astronomer or astrophysicist you need to have a degree in Astronomy or Astrophysics.
To be an engineer get a degree in your field of interest in engineering, be it electrical, software, mechanical, chemical – We have a variety of engineers working at NASA on different projects/missions.
If your interest lies in building aircrafts, spacecrafts, rockets, then get a degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering.
To become a scientist / researcher in any of these areas you will need to get a Ph.D in your area of interest.
But again, like I have been reminding parents too, students should pursue a degree in the area of their choice and interest. That way they will enjoy learning now and working in their field of choice in the future.
2). Where can I apply for internships at NASA? I am not a US citizen, can I still apply for internship at NASA?
Some not all NASA internships require the students to be a US citizen. I have seen many students from around the world attend summer internships here at NASA Ames. So go ahead and put in your best application if the internship requirement does not mention Applicant must be US Citizen
Keep looking for internship opportunities on the NASA website http://www.nasa.gov/ in the ‘For Students’ section. The section has been updated to make looking for internship opportunities easier.
In the US, there are several other aerospace companies (meaning other than NASA) you can apply to for internships. They will however need you to be a US citizen.
I would say we start a ‘movement’ to encourage ISRO to provide internship opportunities for all our talented students from India, if it doesn’t already 🙂. It’s about time and I am sure ISRO can use some help and fresh, new talent to work on its missions.
3). How can I become an astronaut?
By not only getting the right education but also by expanding your skillset as much as possible. As we plan for deep space missions, astronauts will have to be independent, self-reliant if anything breaks in their spacecraft, habitat, rover or their own bodies. So you see they will have to fix anything to everything!
To become a NASA Astronaut, NASA requires you to have:
i). A Bachelors degree in one of the STEM fields
ii). Minimum 3 years experience or at least 1,000 pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft
iii). Ability to pass the NASA long-duration Astronaut physical
More details are on the NASA Website but these are the minimum requirements and I can bet none of the astronauts to date have just had these bare minimum requirements. They have all had PhD’s or Masters and have been experts in their fields before they became astronauts, or they have come from an army/navy/airforce background. So broaden your skill sets and try to master each and everyone of them.
4). How do you manage working towards your dream job while working and taking care of family?
It is a matter of being dedicated and never giving up, be it taking care of family, or my work or my dream. If you have the will and can be persistent and keep going slowly but steadily, you will inch towards your goal no matter how many hurdles you have to overcome. In the face of resistance, discouragement, never giving up and believing in yourself is what takes one through tough times.
And working towards your goals doesn’t mean compromising your duties in any way. In fact being a Mom, I strive more to give my family the topmost priority and my dreams the last. Seeing your persistence everyone around you starts understanding and supporting you, so be true to yourself, to your duties and to your dream and everything will start falling in place. (Ok, now I will stop sounding ‘preachy’ 😉 )
In the end, I want to add, always have a backup plan. Some dreams are tough to achieve so never put all your eggs in one basket! Work towards it but also think, what if this doesn’t work out? Will I be frustrated, disappointed and give up on everything? Trust me, I have come to such points in life, but I have never believed in giving up. If for some reason things don’t work out for me like I planned or dreamed, I will fall back to my backup plan – continue working in the area of my interest and keep on enjoying what I do. So always have a back up plan while you keep working towards your goals. And remember, if a lady with kids, job and responsibilities can keep going towards her dream, then you youngsters can definitely do so and even much more! 🙂
So finally, best wishes for your bright and successful futures! 🙂