Flight Controller

Learn what education and training you'll need to work as a flight controller on a space shuttle mission. Find out about education programs and job duties.

Is Work as a Flight Controller for Me?

Career Overview

If you're good with numbers and are intrigued by the mysteries of outer space, then you might want to consider a career as a flight controller. Flight controllers work on developing, planning and executing a space shuttle flight. Each system of a shuttle usually is handled by a different flight controller. Good communication and teamwork skills are needed by flight controllers to ensure that proper measures are taken throughout a mission, especially when unexpected complications arise. Flight controllers are normally scheduled nine hours a day.

While monitoring a mission is extremely important for flight controllers, they spend most of their time preparing and designing a mission. As flight controllers prepare for a mission, they will test and make necessary modifications to all of the equipment that will be used for the mission. Flight controllers also participate in training scenarios so they are ready to make adjustments if something goes wrong, such as a rocket malfunction or loss of power on the shuttle.

How Can I Become a Flight Controller?

Undergraduate Education

Flight controllers are required to have a degree in engineering or a related technical field. Trainees are assigned to an area that they specialize in and usually receive a few years of instruction before assuming the full responsibilities of a flight controller. Flight controllers can advance to a number of other positions with enough experience and education, including flight director, shuttle engineer and astronaut.

A bachelor's degree program in astronautical or aeronautical engineering is a good starting point for flight controllers. Programs in astronautics teach students technical engineering skills as well as mathematics, physics and teamwork strategies. Coursework in astronautical engineering is structured and usually not very flexible due to specialized engineering courses that are offered only once every school year. Students will take courses in physics, material properties, computational engineering and spacecraft propulsion, just to list a few.

Graduate Education

A master's degree in astronautical engineering further prepares the student to work as a flight controller for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Courses for master's students can include spacecraft systems, space mission design and space navigation principles. Most graduate programs in astronautics offer areas of concentration in spacecraft dynamics, spacecraft propulsion, or spacecraft system design. The specialization training offered in master's programs can help NASA flight controllers prepare for a specific spacecraft-system assignment during a mission.

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