NASA aerospace engineer

An aerospace engineer could...


Help invent and build a spacecraft for the first manned mission to Mars. rendering of Perserverance rover approaching Mars Design airplane wings that change shape to enhance maneuverability. airplane
Design satellite phone technology so that data can be sent and received from remote areas. Man in a rugged landscape talking on a satellite phone Build satellites that help us monitor global climate changes from space. satellite
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Humans have always longed to fly and to make other things fly, both through the air and into outer space—aerospace engineers are the people that make those dreams come true. They design, build, and test vehicles like airplanes, helicopters, balloons, rockets, missiles, satellites, and spacecraft.
Key Requirements Creativity, curiosity, strong math and analytical skills, teamwork, good written and verbal ability, and attention to detail.
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Chemistry, physics, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, applied technology, statistics
Median Salary
Aerospace Engineer
  $116,500
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Interview
  • Watch an interview with a real aeronautical engineer who started his career as a teenager, designing his own model airplanes, at DragonflyTV, courtesy of pbskidsgo.org.
  • Meet Nagin Cox, a NASA engineer who helped take care of Galileo, a robotic spacecraft, while it flew to Jupiter gathering data along the way.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Aerospace engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level aerospace engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics may occasionally qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in specialties that are in high demand. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical, electronics, mechanical, or civil engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches. For example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers may be in short supply. It also allows engineers to shift to fields with better employment prospects or to those that more closely match their interests.

Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class, or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. General courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, are also often required.

Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.

Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with courses in English, social studies, and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last 4 years, but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to complete their studies. In a typical 4-year college curriculum, the first 2 years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last 2 years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one specialty. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school.

Some engineering schools have agreements with 2-year colleges whereby the college provides the initial engineering education, and the engineering school automatically admits students for their last 2 years. In addition, a few engineering schools have arrangements that allow students who spend 3 years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects and 2 years in an engineering school, studying core subjects to receive a bachelor's degree from each school. Some colleges and universities offer 5-year master's degree programs. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study and practical work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and to finance part of their education.

Other Qualifications

Aerospace engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

Aerospace engineers design, develop, and test aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles, as well as supervise the manufacture of these products. Those who work with aircraft are called aeronautical engineers, and those who work specifically with spacecraft are called astronautical engineers. Aerospace engineers develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space exploration, often specializing in areas such as structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, or production methods. They also may specialize in a particular type of aerospace product, such as commercial aircraft, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, or missiles and rockets, and may become experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, or guidance and control systems.

Work Environment

Most aerospace engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction or test sites, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites, both in the United States and abroad.

Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.

On the Job

  • Formulate conceptual design of aeronautical or aerospace products or systems to meet customer requirements.
  • Direct and coordinate activities of engineering or technical personnel designing, fabricating, modifying, or testing of aircraft or aerospace products.
  • Develop design criteria for aeronautical or aerospace products or systems, including testing methods, production costs, quality standards, and completion dates.
  • Plan and conduct experimental, environmental, operational and stress tests on models and prototypes of aircraft and aerospace systems and equipment.
  • Evaluate product data and design from inspections and reports for conformance to engineering principles, customer requirements, and quality standards.
  • Formulate mathematical models or other methods of computer analysis to develop, evaluate, or modify design according to customer engineering requirements.
  • Write technical reports and other documentation, such as handbooks and bulletins, for use by engineering staff, management, and customers.
  • Analyze project requests and proposals and engineering data to determine feasibility, productibility, cost, and production time of aerospace or aeronautical product.
  • Review performance reports and documentation from customers and field engineers, and inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to determine problem.
  • Direct research and development programs.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Aerospace Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Just one sheet of paper can lead to a whole lot of fun. How? Paper planes! All you have to know is how to fold and you can have a simple plane in a matter of minutes! But what design should you use to build the best plane? In this aerodynamics science project, you will change the basic design of a paper plane and see how this affects its flight. Specifically, you will increase how much drag the plane experiences and see if this changes how far the paper plane flies. There is a lot of cool… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Watching a spacecraft launch is an amazing experience. It is thrilling to see it lift off and escape Earth's gravity. Did you know that it takes a chemical reaction to get a spacecraft into space? Every time you see a one blast off, you are watching chemistry at work. In this chemistry science fair project, you will also get to blast an object into the air. You will not be using the same fuel that NASA uses for the rockets that launch their spacecrafts; instead, you will use two simple… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever ridden on a carousel, or a merry-go-round, at an amusement park? On a carousel, you usually get to take a seat on a wooden horse or other animal that spins around and around as the carousel is turned on and powered by electricity. Another smaller type of carousel that people can have in their homes is a candle carousel, which is powered by heat from candles. In this science project, you will get to make your own candle carousel and investigate how the spinning speed of the… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
How can we make space stations with artificial gravity a reality? In this science project, you will explore the physics of creating artificial gravity with circular motion. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever ridden on a hovercraft? It is like gliding on a cushion of air! In this science project, you will make your own mini hovercraft using a CD or DVD and a balloon and investigate how the amount of air in the balloon affects how long the hovercraft hovers. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
What can you do with magnets and ball bearings that makes a lot of noise? Why, build a magnetic linear accelerator, called a Gauss rifle, of course! Now, this magnetic accelerator is not a weapon, but a way for you to learn a lot more about physics concepts, like momentum. In this physics science project, you will investigate how far a ball bearing launched by a Gauss rifle will fly, depending on how many magnetic acceleration stages are in the setup and the ball bearing's initial velocity.… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
How does a parachute work? Do bigger parachutes work better than smaller parachutes? Find out in this science project if the size of the parachute matters. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Looking for an exciting new mode of transportation? In this science fair project, you will build a working hovercraft that will glide over surfaces on a cushion of air. And it's simpler to build than you might think! Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
3... 2... 1... 0— blastoff! In this science project, you will use a bottle rocket launcher to launch your own bottle rocket. You will load it with water and pressurized air, make several launches, and find out what makes your rocket soar the highest. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that you can actually make objects come together by blowing air between them? Find out how wind changes air pressure to bring to objects together in this easy and fun science fair project! Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever dreamed about becoming invisible? Or about making something else invisible, like the mess all over your room? Invisibility may sound like the stuff of science fiction (remember Star Trek's "Cloaking Device"?), but in reality, military vehicles, like planes and ships, can be made less observable, or even invisible, to different detection methods—like radar, sonar, or infrared sensors—by using stealth technology. In this engineering science fair project, you'll find out… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
What keeps a model rocket on course? How can you make sure a model rocket design is stable before you launch it? Find out in this project as you learn about center of mass, center of pressure, and their effect on a rocket's stability. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Kites have been a source of entertainment for centuries for kids from cultures around the world. In this science project you will have a chance to build your very own kite, a simple sled kite. Then you will use it to investigate how kites fly. Will you find out the best way to fly your kite? Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen a helicopter flying through the sky? It can be difficult to do a science project with a real helicopter, so in this project we will show you how to make a miniature paper helicopter called a whirlybird. Will your whirlybird be able to stay in the air as you add paper clips as weights? Try this project to find out! Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen butterflies fluttering around outside, gliding through the air and landing on flowers? While they are delicate and fragile, butterflies are actually excellent flyers. They are so good, in fact, that scientists at Harvard University studied butterfly wing shapes as an inspiration for building a miniature flying robot. In this science project, you will do your own version of the Harvard scientists' experiment to measure the flight performance of butterfly wings. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
You've heard of gold mining and coal mining, but think outside the box...or the planet...what about asteroid mining? Scientists, engineers, and business people believe asteroid mining is feasible, and they are in the beginning stages of long-term plans to mine asteroids for valuable resources during space missions. You don't want to miss out on all the fun; in this science project, you will come up with your own scientific plan for an asteroid mining company. We will help get you started by… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Rocket design and operation is a fascinating field and analyzing the flight path provides insight into the rocket's performance. In this project, you will take measurements of the flight path to evaluate how a change in the rocket design or launch procedure impacts the rocket's performance. Initially, while the bottle rocket expels water (or the rocket expels exhaust), the rocket gets a boost. This push is referred to as thrust and projects the rocket forward. Earth's gravity pulls the… Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The movement of satellites is intriguing, but how do they orbit the way they do? Aerospace engineers run calculations and set up computer models to help them predict how satellites move in space, but in this astronomy science project, you will create a physical model with marbles, clay, and a cookie sheet to help you study how satellites move in space and learn from your observations. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever looked up into the sky and seen not a bird, not a plane, but a hot-air balloon? They are definitely amazing and fun to watch! Do you think they are all the same size? Does size affect how long the hot-air balloon can fly? In this science fair project, you will launch hot-air balloons, powered by a toaster, and see how the size of the balloon affects its flight. Read more
Log in to add favorite
Science Fair Project Idea
The first man-made satellite, the Sputnik 1, was launched in 1957. As of late 2020, more than 2,600 man-made satellites orbit Earth, with a little over 70% of them in low Earth orbit. If you would like to delve into how satellites and their sensors are configured, or into how their orbits are planned—and do not shy away from a little programming—this project is for you! With the help of FreeFlyer®—powerful software that allows you to simulate satellite orbit and… Read more

Ask Questions

Do you have a specific question about a career as an Aerospace Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.

Additional Information

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Northrop Grumman Corporation
Free science fair projects.