Careers in the field of space exploration and the study of space deal with perhaps the biggest unknown mankind has dealt with. Beyond Earth's atmosphere is a vast sea of stars and galaxies that we barely understand today. People working in this field learn more about outer space. Whether the job is to explore space physically, to study it from afar or to improve the possibilities for space travel, space jobs exist to accomplish the task.
The most well-known space job is that of the astronaut. These people actually explore space aboard spacecraft and, in the United States, they work for NASA. Russia and China also have astronauts.
Astronauts may serve as pilots or as mission specialists. The pilot astronaut commands and pilots the spacecraft during flight. These candidates are typically military-trained test pilots prior to joining NASA. Mission specialists maintain equipment in the spacecraft and conduct experiments, including space walks.They are often scientists, engineers or physicians.
Astronomers are scientists who study the universe and use physics and math to learn about the nature of all things in space. Astronomy is often considered a sub-field of physics, and sometimes astronomers have expertise that labels them astrophysicists.
Most astronomers conduct research to increase basic scientific knowledge about the universe, while some conduct applied research and development to build on previous discoveries and develop new processes or devices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Astronomers use telescopes and other data-gathering instruments. They often write research papers to introduce new theories about the universe. A few astronomers work in observatories or planetariums, where they conduct educational programs about space for the public.
Astronautical engineering is the art or science of designing and operating space vehicles, including manned spaceships and satellites, for the exploration of space, according to the University of Southern California Department of Astronautical Engineering website. Astronautical engineers design space missions and the spacecraft to be used in them. They are experts in rocket design, rocket propulsion, the physics of the Earth's gravitational pull and orbit and the environment of space. Astronautical engineering lays the foundation for all space exploration and space-related applications, such as satellite television broadcasting, global positioning systems, weather monitoring and ballistic missile launches.
2016 Salary Information for Physicists and Astronomers
Physicists and astronomers earned a median annual salary of $114,750 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicists and astronomers earned a 25th percentile salary of $81,680, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $153,060, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 19,900 people were employed in the U.S. as physicists and astronomers.