How Can I Become a Space Scientist?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in space science. Read on to learn more about career options along with education and job outlook information. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Space Scientist?

Space science is a broad career field in which scientists investigate and conduct research about the universe. Physicists and astronomers are two different kinds of space scientists. Physicists study the natural laws relating to time, energy, matter and space. They may work in theoretical areas of the field or areas that can be studied using high-tech laboratory equipment to examine various properties of matter. Their work can be applied to how things are created, move and function in space. Astronomers focus their studies on stars, planets, galaxies and more. They may also monitor black holes, space debris and asteroids. Both of these careers present their research and findings in scientific articles that are available to the public and other scientists. Read over the chart below to get an overview of job choices in this career field.

Physicist Astronomer
Degree Required Doctoral degree Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Physics Astronomy
Key Skills Analytical and critical thinking skills, mathematical and problem solving skills Analytical and critical thinking skills, mathematical and problem solving skills
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8%* 3%*
Median Salary (2015) $111,580* $104,100*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Degree Programs in Space Science are Available?

Space science is less a defined scientific field than a loose category that draws on multiple disciplines. Foremost among these disciplines are physics, astronomy and astrophysics; space science also includes elements of chemistry, geology, biology, computer science and engineering. Earning a master's or doctoral degree in physics, astronomy or astrophysics could prepare you for work as a space scientist. Master's programs are typically completed in two years; you may need 5-6 years to earn a doctoral degree.

Physics, astrophysics and astronomy programs often overlap in subject matter. Some schools even offer astrophysics and astronomy as concentrations within a physics degree. Physics programs are primarily concerned with understanding and manipulating light, matter and the fundamental forces of nature. Classroom and lab courses touch on photonics, quantum mechanics and gravitation.

Astronomy and astrophysics are nearly synonymous, but have small, conceptual differences. Astronomy programs emphasize direct observation of celestial objects to discover basic facts about their motion, chemistry and meteorology. Astrophysics programs are more concerned with finding explanations for the origin of the observable universe and the objects within it according to known laws of physics.

Where Do Professionals Work?

A majority of space science is conducted through remotely-controlled satellites and spacecraft, with manned space programs providing a smaller amount of hands-on research. Thus aerospace companies, major universities and government agencies - like the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA - are your potential employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't provide figures for space scientists, but it does report that 15,650 people were employed as physicists and 1,760 were employed as astronomers in 2015 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, the number of employed physicists was expected to grow 8% and astronomers was projected to grow by 3% from 2014-2024.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

The duties you perform should generally fall into three areas - planning, deployment and analysis. Planning responsibilities may include designing satellites, satellite instruments, telescopes or experiments for manned flights. Deployment duties may involve the successful management of satellite or spacecraft launches. Analytical work for space scientists could include interpreting data from experiments, satellites or telescopes and drawing conclusions.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several other scientists with related positions that require a doctoral or professional degree, such as biochemists and biophysicists and computer and information research scientists. Biochemists and biophysicists use physics, chemistry and other principles to study living things and an array of biological processes. For example, they may study the development of a cell and examine how different DNA and other environmental effects influence disease. Computer and information research scientists work to improve current technology and develop new technology. They use this technology to help solve intricate problems in a wide range of fields, such as medicine and science.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools