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Rocket Scientist: Job Description, Salary and Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a rocket scientist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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Rocket scientists in the US are employed by NASA or a similar organization to design and manufacture spacecraft. This requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, though many people in this industry need or prefer to obtain a higher degree.

Essential Information

Rocket scientists are aerospace engineers who specialize in the design and manufacture of spacecraft. They work with the principles of science and engineering to create vehicles that fly within or above the Earth's atmosphere. The job of a rocket scientist requires proficiency with physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, propulsion, communications and mathematics. A bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related field is the minimum requirement for entry-level positions, while many candidates choose to pursue graduate degrees to enhance their career prospects.

Required Education Bachelor's degree minimum requirement; further education may be beneficial and is required for carrying out independent research
Other Requirements Proficiency in physics, aerodynamics and related subjects
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -2% for all aerospace engineers
Median Salary (2015)* $107,830 for all aerospace engineers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Rocket scientists and aerospace engineers generally work on the design and testing of rocket-propelled vehicles, such as orbiting spacecraft or missiles. They could specialize in a particular area of aerospace engineering, such as space exploration vehicles or defense systems. They might also choose to focus on a particular component of spacecraft, such as acoustics, aerodynamics, propulsion or guidance systems.

Duties can include designing aerospace vehicles or systems, overseeing the manufacture and fabrication of projects, devising testing methods or developing quality criteria for spacecraft systems, such as the communications or fuel system. Within their design processes, rocket scientists need to determine the most efficient and effective placement for instrumentation and controls to assure ease of use for manned vehicles or connectivity for unmanned spacecraft. Other tasks can include assessing the results of quality control inspections to ensure the aerospace system meets necessary specifications and develop reports or handbooks for operators who use the equipment or vehicles.

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Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for aerospace engineers, including rocket scientists, was $107,830 in 2015. About 38% of aerospace engineers worked in the aerospace parts and products manufacturing industry; that segment of workers earned an average of $106,440. Average wages were somewhat higher for those in scientific research and development, at $107,840 per year in 2015.

About 60% of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) employees work in an aerospace engineering capacity (www.nasa.gov). Starting pay depends upon position, special qualifications, level of experience and level of education. Employees also receive grade and cost of living increases annually.

Outlook

The BLS projected that employment for aerospace engineers would decrease by 2 percent between 2014 and 2024. In addition to employment in the aerospace industry, rocket scientists can also find employment in motor vehicle design and manufacturing industries. With the knowledge and skills learned in aerodynamics and engineering, rocket scientists working in the motor vehicle industry can design vehicles with lower air resistance and greater fuel efficiency.

To recap, a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering is the minimum requirement to become a rocket scientist. This career involves designing and manufacturing spacecraft, although the skills required could be transferred to a similar industry, such as manufacturing or motor vehicle engineering. Jobs were expected to decline slightly in this field from 2014-2024, and median salaries were in the low six figures in 2015.

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