Employment Opportunities in the Space Sciences

Space scientists in the United States are generally underpaid and competition for the few available jobs can be fierce. The future holds both good and bad news. Especially in planetary science and astronomy, the increase in NASA missions to the planets is opening up opportunities everywhere. The Space Science Institute in Colorado is advertising openings for young Ph.D. graduates to help with the increasing data returned from the Saturn planetary system by Cassini/Huygens. The Department of Planetary Sciences Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona has recently expanded from one building to three and plans on adding 150 new employees to its existing 300 workforce.

Because of the sudden viability of private industry expanding into space, two space ports will be rapidly growing over the next few years. New Mexico will build a space port to host the X PRIZE CUP starting in 2006. The space port is also expected to offer a prime location for rocket launches. The Mojave Desert in California is another spaceport location that is already home to several private companies with astronautic interests. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to certify the location as a spaceport next month. These spaceports could eventually result in an explosion in opportunities for scientists.

Another important milestone is the expected retirement of many current scientists. This sudden opening of jobs over the next ten years will bring a lot of fresh faces into the field.

On the downside, automation is rapidly taking over traditional duties, such as telescope operation and observations. It is a rare astronomer today that actually has to look through a telescope as a necessary part of his or her job. Automation is allowing observations of more frequencies at longer intervals over larger portions of the sky. All that date it stored in vast databases that are now being browsed by smart digital agents looking for interesting discoveries. In just the past few years such agents have discovered more faint objects such as asteroids and brown dwarfs than human beings have discovered in the entire history of human observation.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.