Top 9 Careers in Space Science

A career in space science is an opportunity to explore the unknown and make a difference in the world. This diverse field encompasses roles in academia, government agencies, and the private sector, catering to various skill sets and interests. This article will provide an overview of the top 9 careers in space science, highlighting the responsibilities, qualifications, and potential for growth in each.


Description: Astrophysicists explore the nature of celestial bodies, phenomena, and the universe’s physical laws. This involves examining planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and the theories related to the physics of these entities, such as general relativity and quantum mechanics. Responsibilities often include conducting observational and theoretical research, analyzing data from space probes and satellites, creating and testing scientific models, and publishing findings in scientific journals. They may also design and oversee the development of new instruments and technologies to advance their research. Their work contributes to our understanding of the universe and its fundamental principles.

Qualifications: Astrophysicists need a Ph.D. in astrophysics, physics, or a related field. This follows a bachelor’s degree in physics or astronomy. Strong mathematical skills are essential, as are computer skills, as much of the analysis and modeling work is computer-based. Research experience often gained through internships or academic projects is also valuable.

Salary: According to Comparably, the average salary for an astrophysicist is around $85,689.

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Aerospace Engineer

Description: Aerospace engineers are responsible for the design, development, testing, and supervision of the production of aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems and equipment. They also work on the development of new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space exploration. These may range from designing advanced propulsion systems to creating more efficient aircraft or spacecraft designs. They utilize complex computer software, or Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programs, to simulate flight conditions and improve performance metrics. In the initial stages of design, aerospace engineers often use mathematical models to predict the performance of new designs under various operating conditions. Following this, they create physical prototypes for further testing or utilize simulations for larger and more complex systems.

Qualifications: A Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a related engineering field is required for entry-level positions. Some engineers may choose to specialize further with a Master’s degree or Ph.D. Professional Engineer (PE) licensing can also enhance career opportunities. Key skills include strong mathematical ability, analytical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving.

Salary:  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests aerospace engineers can earn an average salary of roughly $122,270 per year.

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Description: Astronauts undergo rigorous training in various fields, such as science, technology, and physical fitness, to prepare for their space missions. They also learn survival skills for post-landing recovery in different terrains. In space, they conduct experiments that can’t be performed in Earth’s conditions, contributing to research areas like physics, biology, and human biology. Part of their role involves maintaining the spacecraft, which can include repairing instruments and addressing any technical issues. Astronauts also perform spacewalks for tasks like repairing the space station or conducting experiments. Beyond scientific and technical duties, astronauts often serve as a link between space exploration and public engagement, sharing their experiences to inspire interest in space exploration.

Qualifications: Minimum qualifications usually include a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, or math), with many astronauts holding advanced degrees. Additionally, professional experience or piloting experience is often required. Rigorous physical and psychological assessments are also part of the selection process, along with extensive training after selection.

Salary: On average, an astronaut’s yearly salary is within the range of $104,898 to $161,141, as reported by Indeed.

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Description: Astronomers study celestial objects, such as stars, planets, comets, and galaxies. Unlike astrophysicists, who primarily use physics to understand the universe, astronomers often focus more on observing astronomical objects and phenomena, cataloging them, and analyzing their movements and behavior. Astronomers use various tools, including optical telescopes, radio telescopes, and space-based observatories, to gather data about the universe. They may specialize in certain areas, such as planetary astronomy, stellar astronomy, or galactic astronomy. Their work often contributes to our understanding of the universe’s structure and history and can have practical applications, such as identifying potential threats from near-earth objects.

Qualifications: Astronomers require a Ph.D. in astronomy, physics, or a related field. This is usually preceded by a bachelor’s and often a master’s degree in a similar discipline. Strong mathematical skills, problem-solving abilities, and proficiency in using complex scientific equipment are also necessary.

Salary: Per Salary, an astronomer’s average annual salary is approximately $121,367.

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Description: Astrobiologists combine principles from biology, chemistry, physics, and geology to explore the origins of life on Earth and search for life in the universe. Their work includes researching the conditions that support life, examining planets and moons for signs of habitability, and studying extremophiles on Earth to understand possible life forms in extreme environments. They also contribute to developing space probes to detect signs of life. Part of their work involves using spectroscopy and other techniques to analyze the composition of celestial bodies and look for biosignatures.

Qualifications: An astrobiologist starts with a bachelor’s degree in a science-based field like biology, chemistry, or astronomy. Many astrobiologists further their education with a master’s or a Ph.D., specializing in astrobiology or a related field.

Salary: Based on Salary’s data, astrobiologists can earn between $45,368 to $72,524 per year.

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Spacecraft Systems Engineer

Description: Spacecraft Systems Engineers are responsible for the overall engineering design, implementation, and operation of spacecraft. They play a crucial role in the pre-launch phase, including system integration, validation, and final spacecraft checkout. Once the spacecraft is operational, they monitor its performance and intervene when issues arise, making real-time decisions critical to mission success. Their expertise is also vital in post-mission analysis, influencing improvements and innovations in future spacecraft design.

Qualifications: A bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, or a related field is required. Knowledge of computer science can also be beneficial. Practical experience through internships or cooperative programs is advantageous, and advanced positions may require a master’s degree or relevant work experience.

Salary:  Spacecraft systems engineers typically make around $110,231 per year according to figures from ZipRecruiter.

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Planetary Scientist

Description: Planetary scientists study planets and their atmospheres, including moons, asteroids, and comets, both within our solar system and beyond. They conduct research, analyze data, and develop theories about the origin and evolution of planetary bodies. This involves using telescopes, satellite images, and occasionally data from space missions. Their work can involve collaboration with astrophysicists, geologists, and engineers. Beyond academic research, planetary scientists contribute to space mission planning and development, deciding where probes should land or which routes they should take. Their research holds implications for our understanding of Earth’s place in the universe, the potential for extraterrestrial life, and the future of space exploration.

Qualifications: A bachelor’s degree in physical science is a starting point, but most planetary scientists hold a Ph.D. in planetary science, geology, astronomy, or a related field. Proficiency in mathematical modeling, computational skills, and experience in laboratory or fieldwork are essential.

Salary: As per Salary, the average annual income for a planetary scientist falls between $81,042 to $104,452.

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Description: Geoscientists study the Earth’s structure, composition, and processes using field studies, lab tests, and remote sensing equipment. They often specialize in areas such as geology, geophysics, or geochemistry, each with a unique focus and application. Their work involves interpreting collected data to predict future trends and events like earthquakes or resource depletion. Frequently working in interdisciplinary teams, geoscientists help address global challenges like climate change and sustainable resource management. Their expertise aids in developing policies, regulations, and public awareness concerning Earth systems and human impact. Additionally, they work with advanced tools like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing technologies, contributing to technological innovation within their field.

Qualifications: A bachelor’s degree in geoscience, geology, or a related field is required. For advanced research positions, a master’s degree or Ph.D. is usually necessary. Fieldwork and analytical skills, along with a strong foundation in mathematics and physics, are crucial.

Salary: Geoscientists make an average of $83,680 annually, as suggested by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Atmospheric Scientist

Description: Atmospheric Scientists engage in the study of the Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to our understanding of weather patterns, climate change, and atmospheric processes. Their work often involves using computer models to predict weather or climate trends, researching atmospheric phenomena, and analyzing weather data to provide accurate forecasts. They are critical in mitigating weather-related hazards, informing agricultural practices, advising on environmental policies, and contributing to climate change adaptation strategies. Their insights often influence policy decisions, emergency management plans, and public awareness of weather and climate issues.

Qualifications: A Bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences or Meteorology is the starting point, but for research roles, a Master’s or Ph.D. is generally necessary. Proficiency in weather prediction models, climatic data analysis, and related software is vital.

Salary: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average annual income of about $94,570 for an atmospheric scientist.

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