Space Scientist: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a space scientist. Learn about the education and training you need to become one, as well as career projections and salary expectations to see if this might be the career for you. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Space Scientist Do?

A space scientist studies the properties of outer space, including our solar system and other galaxies and solar systems, by analyzing data collected by equipment mounted on orbiters, satellites and other probes that are sent into space. Often these professionals use complex software and electronic equipment to analyze the data. They will use this data to support or disprove theories and models they have developed. Space scientists must present their findings in technical reports or presentations that are available to the public and their fellow colleagues. They should have strong science, math, critical thinking and communication skills. The chart below outlines the education requirements, job outlook, and salary expectations for a career in this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's, Ph.D
Education Field of Study Physics, mathematics, astrophysics, astronomy
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9 - 13% (atmospheric and space scientists)*
Median Salary (2015) $89,820 (atmospheric and space scientists)**

Sources: * O-Net Online, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Space Scientist?

As a space scientist, you might conduct research in space weather, the evolution of solar systems and the interactions between stars and surrounding planets, including how these interactions differ between planets that possess magnetic fields and those that do not. You might study weather in space by analyzing data from satellite weather stations in space.

Aside from analyzing data collected from instruments sent into space, you may also analyze the results of experiments that are conducted in outer space on orbital vehicles. These experiments are typically conducted by automated, computer-controlled systems; however, a limited number of experiments are also conducted by human astronauts, looking at, for example, how various types of matter behave in a low-gravitational-field environment. In addition to experimental work, you might also use computer models to simulate physical phenomena, such as space weather patterns.

What Education Do I Need for a Career in This Field?

Because space science is an interdisciplinary field, an aspiring space scientist can choose from different areas of study. Due to the highly quantitative nature of the field, a strong background in physics and mathematics is essential. To acquire the requisite quantitative skills, you could major in physics or applied mathematics as an undergraduate and then pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in physics, astrophysics, astronomy or mathematics. You could also study aeronautical engineering if you're interested in the design and construction of space vehicles and data-collection equipment.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that atmospheric and space scientists earned a median annual salary of $89,820 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those in the bottom ten percent of the salary range earned less than $50,630 in 2015, whereas those in the top ten percent earned more than $132,180 in that year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Hydrologists and geoscientists are a couple related professions that require at least a bachelor's degree. Hydrologists study water movement and work to improve water quality and availability. Geoscientists investigate Earth's past, present and future by examining physical attributes of the planet. Physicists and astronomers are also related careers, but require a doctoral or professional degree. They develop complex experiments to study different kinds of matter and energy and how they interact.

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