Careers in Space Sciences
Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams might be the popular faces of space exploration programs but careers in Space Sciences are not only about becoming an astronaut. A space agency employs several other scientists, technicians, and experts you might never have heard of.
Whether you are a man or a woman, Space Science and Technology offers you several job opportunities where you can be a part of making the space science fiction come true.
How does Space Technologies affect Our Lives?
Have you ever wondered why government spends so much on the ventures to the cosmos when it already has so much to do and improve on Earth itself? Well, it is because the advancement of technologies help us know more about our Earth and do things that would have been ‘inconceivable’ otherwise.
From the time astronauts of the Apollo Moon program took the first images of our planet, space exploration programs have helped us to know more about how the Universe works, and how small and delicate our Earth is – in the grand scheme of things.
The satellites we send out in space help us to transmit TV, radio and telephone signals; make satellite navigation systems used by cars and aero planes possible, and offer insights that can help us to take better care of Earth. They allow us to take a closer look at the Earth’s features such as our atmosphere, oceans, rainforests, deserts, ice sheets, weather and cities etc. It is the information sent by satellites that has made it possible for us to understand how pollution from our cars, factories and homes is destroying the Ozone layer, which shields us from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. It has impressed on us how crucial it is to find and use environment-friendly chemicals and pay attention to the state of our atmosphere too.
The space sector is also the forerunner in developing renewable energy. It employs some of the most energy-conscious scientists on Earth. It was space engineers who first used solar cells to power satellites during their space stints. They are also good at making use of every single watt that powers a spacecraft or satellite equipment. Three areas in Energy Science where space scientists have led the way are:
*Energy Preservation: Satellites were the first to use navigation systems to reach distant satellites or planets in the energy-efficient manner. Today, they help us to find the right sites to install renewable energy hardware, such as solar panels, windmills, etc. They also make telecommunications (and teleconferences) possible, negating the need to travel and making processes faster. All this help us save a considerable amount of energy.
*Energy Storage: Li-on cells that are so commonly used today to power portable devices and electric vehicles is popular in space applications too, as they can store higher energy over mass.
*Energy Transfer: We are already using lasers to transfer energy in the form of ‘microwave rays’ over large distances. Now, space engineers are working on futuristic concepts like transmitting energy from solar arrays to power remote satellites. It is possible that they might be able to direct energy from space to Earth in a few decades.
Satellites also help in weather-tracking and predicting natural disasters. Recently, it was the satellites that warned people about Hurricane Sandy just as it was developing, and allowed people to prepare for it and evacuate vulnerable areas in time. They keep an eye on oceans and have found how the heat stored by them eventually lead to deluge and floods in some part of the world, and cause drought in others.
With the help of satellites, we can now keep an eye on the remote areas of the world too – and study things like depletion of ice sheets, shrinking of rainforests, and possible flooding of coastal areas that are important indicators of Global Warming.
Career Opportunities for those who are fascinated by Space or the Universe
Young graduates who specialize in Space Sciences and Technology often get to work on innovative technologies and space secrets such as:
*developing advanced technical infrastructure needed for space exploration,
*mapping distant planets and stars,
*making new discoveries about the solar system, and
*Studying satellites and how they affect Earth etc.
Yet, for the uninitiated, the first career that comes to mind while talking about Space Sciences is that of an ‘Astronaut’. Here, we will discuss about astronauts and what else space scientists do:
The coveted job of an astronaut has an extremely limited number of opportunities across the world. If you want to be a part of a space exploration program as the ‘astronaut’, you will have to meet the stringent physical fitness criteria and undergo a rigorous training. Competition is fierce, and only the most exceptional candidates make it to the training programme for astronauts.
To become an astronaut, you must have graduated from a field related to Science or Mathematics, and must be an experienced pilot. Most of the astronauts hold Master’s or Doctoral degrees. They also need to meet height and weight requirements, and must be able to see with perfect clarity. Each space agency (like NASA) specifies its own selection criteria which can be seen on its website.
While only a handful of people (read astronauts) get to travel in outer space, engineers are the ones who make space exploration possible. They not only design space-crafts, space vehicles and space stations but also space satellites that predict weather and climatic conditions, and facilitate broadcasting and communications.
Diverse engineering streams can lead you into the field of Space Science, such as:
*Aerospace or Aeronautical Engineering
*Avionics & Instrumentation Engineering
*Computer Science and Engineering
Scientists from diverse streams can make a research and development career in the field of space science. For example, a pharmacology researcher might try to develop new medications with the help of ‘alien’ substances found from a meteor or during space exploration trips. Experts from the following fields can often be seen in space agency labs:
*Astrophysicists: study physical nature of stars and celestial bodies, and how laws of Physics can be applied to astronomical observations.
*Biologists: study alien life forms or possibility of life on other planets.
*Chemists: study chemicals and chemical compositions of meteors and substances found in space.
*Doctors and Medical Scientists: study effects of space travel and extended stay in space on human body, animals and plants.
*Geologists: study geological features of Earth, other planets, and satellites – their physical features, how they were formed, and how different processes act on them.
*Meteorologists: study Earth’s atmosphere and how it gets impacted from outer space.
*Physicists: study Astronomy, Astrophysics, High-Energy Particle Physics, Space Physics, Space Weather, Lighting Research and other planetary sciences.
Space Science is an interdisciplinary field of pure and applied sciences, and includes opportunities for experts of almost all streams.
*Technologist and Technician Positions
Technologists and technicians often work closely with engineers and scientists to build, test and improvise upon various kinds of space projects and technological innovations. Skilled technicians from the following fields are often hired by space agencies:
*Computer Aided Design (CAD) Operators
*Quality Assurance Specialists
Where can Space Scientists work in India?
In the Space Science, employers look for highly-skilled applicants with very specialized education and training requirements. If you are academically bright, you might apply for space science jobs at:
*Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO),
*Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO),
*Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL),
*National Aeronautical Laboratories (NAL), and
Space scientists can also work as faculty in universities, guide research students, publish papers, sit on academic committees, write proposals, or referee papers for publication.
Observatories, science museums, space research agencies etc. are other places that hire astronomers and astrophysicists.You can also find space science experts writing software or doing technical writing, designing and manufacturing telescopes, and working in space laboratories.
Besides R&D centers and military operations, space scientists are hired by simulation centers, firms that manufacture spacecraft or develop software for spacecrafts, space tourism operators, and repair and maintenance workshops.
ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Space Application Centre (SAC), and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) also offer research opportunities to space scientists.
How to Get into ISRO?
Established in 1969, under the able guidance of Vikram Sarabhai, ISRO has become one of the six largest space agencies in the world. It has one of the largest fleet of remote sensing (IRS) satellites as well as the communication (INSAT) satellites. It offers space-based services to India, such as broadcasts and communications, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), weather forecasts, telemedicine, cartography, navigation, telemedicine, and dedicated distance education satellites.
To make this possible, ISRO also develops cost-efficient and reliable instruments, tools and launch systems, such as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). It also launches lunar and interplanetary missions, and take up other science projects to provide us with an edge in technology and be ready for the future.
The organization also contributes to science education and research in India. Under the aegis of the Department of Space, it runs several dedicated research centers and autonomous institutions for various related fields such as space sciences, astronomy and astrophysics, remote sensing, and atmospheric sciences.
Naturally, ISRO needs a huge workforce that is highly skilled and knowledgeable to handle such futuristic projects.
Indian citizens, who are not more than 35 years of age, can apply for the written exam at ISRO, if they have:
*completed their B.Tech or BE in streams like Electrical, Electronics, Computer Science, or Mechanical Engineering, and
*Have an aggregate score of 65% or more throughout their academic careers.
Every year, in April, ISRO conducts a written test to recruit candidates who can only register for the exam online.
Top Indian Colleges and Institutes offering Space Science Courses
India is a well-known hub for space education as well as astounding work in space technology. Many universities, institutions and research organizations in India, especially in Kerala, are actively involved in space science research. Some of the best known institutions offering courses related to this field are:
*Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Thiruvananthapuram
*Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS), Dehradun
*Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi
*Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
*Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Madras, Kharagpur, and Kanpur
If becoming a space scientist is the dream job of your life, you must take Physics-Chemistry-Math (PCM) stream in Class 12 and try to get admission in IIST. The institute offers B.Tech programmes in:
Admission to IIST takes place through IIT JEE exam.
To become an astronaut, you have to apply for the course at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), US.
Besides these, ISRO's Department of Space also run Centers for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP) in association with the United Nations.
At selected State Remote Sensing Application Centres and DOS Centres, training programmes are also run by the National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS) to train personnel from different education departments. NNRMS also conducts training programmes for researchers and in-service professionals in affiliation with institutes like:
*Geological Survey of India training Institute, Hyderabad,
*National Water Academy, CWC, Pune
*National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land use Planning, ICAR, Nagpur.
At postgraduate level, IIRS offers Distance Learning Programme through EDUSAT to students of 40+ universities and institutions in India.
The salary component for budding space scientists often depends on their education level, nature of work, and the institute. Most people get a salary package of Rs 2.5 to 3.5 lakh as a fresher along with several benefits such as housing facility, medical benefits, and travel allowance. However, there is no limit for what best space scientists can earn if they are experts in their fields.
(Author is Asst. Prof of Science and Technology, Patna University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)