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Ask Slashdot: How To Enter Private Space Industry As an Engineer? 283

First time accepted submitter CtownNighrider writes "I'm in my senior year of high school currently in a selective program for future engineers. I have always been a good student and feel like I can get into most good schools (MIT is a long shot but RPI isn't). I plan on studying aerospace engineering (most likely getting a dual major with mechanical) in college and working for a company like SpaceX once I graduate. I would love any advice anyone can offer for my college search or being an engineer in general. I live in upstate NY and don't want to travel super far, I'm thinking about a 5 hour radius. I have the RPI medal so it's one of my top choices and MIT is my long shot but I'm having a tough time figuring out what schools are worth applying too. Academics come first hands down so male/female ratio and party scene aren't too important."
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Ask Slashdot: How To Enter Private Space Industry As an Engineer?

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  • Co-op (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:37PM (#37810534)

    Interview and get a co-operative engineer position at any space-related engineering firm. Sounds like your credentials could get you an interview. Can't be beat to get a leg up on that type of career; it worked for me...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:42PM (#37810576)

    Don't feel like you have to go to a hard-core engineering school. Go to the best state school in your area, the undergraduate curriculum is not much different from a really well regarded school like MIT. It will be cheaper and you will likely have a better social life.

    Recognize that with fancy schools you are paying for the prestige, the education is not much different. I went to a top five engineering school, most of my classes were giant lectures that would have been exactly the same at any state school. (the state school is often even better if they have good professors rather than uber-researchers who suck at teaching) If you really want prestige go to the best graduate program you can get into after you graduate. For good engineering students this is typically free and the high prestige schools actually are better at that level.

    You say you do not care about the quality of your social life now, but believe me, after 4 years of hardcore engineering school you will. Nearly everyone who makes this decision does

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:50PM (#37810650)

      You go to fancy schools because many of the students with whom you get drunk there are tomorrow's industry leaders. They are good people to know, because they will be able to provide you with employment opportunities that you simply can't get by sending off resumes.

      • by umghhh ( 965931 )
        well 'd say it is good to 'scoializing' with these assholes gives greater chance of outsourcing somebody's job to Zamunda than getting your own lost that way. Other than that pick your education based on what you like. In few years time i.e. when you finish your course the economics of your country and the profession that you wanted to be part of will change as well as you will so you can just as well enjoy yourself or get contacts for the future. This change of situation is actually a serious thing - just
    • by Bananatree3 ( 872975 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:59PM (#37810730)
      For undergrad work, it's perfectly legit to go to a well-regarded state school.

      Once you've nailed the academics at a state undergrad level and proven yourself (with less cost), then hit up the larger research universities like MIT. You'll have more track record on your academic resume, and you'll have tons of contacts from your undergrad years to help you get in.

      Transferring into a top tier University with less debt is not a bad way to go, if you're willing to do undergrad work at a state level. The majority of undergrad studies - Physics, Calculus, etc. are all pretty much universal whether at the state or Ivy league schools.

      It's when you get to the higher levels that your dollars will be well spent at a specialty school.

    • +1 for the social scene: the majority of the jobs you'll get will be through your friends that you make at university, not because you have a fancy name on your resume. Being surrounded by creative, smart people and forming good relationships with them is easily just as important as learning engineering concepts and getting good grades. Since engineers are known to drink a lot, the party scene is not something to discount since it's quite a bit easier to form bonds with people over drinking games than over
    • My advice based on some partial regrets: Don't just hang out at a "state school" (assuming that means University of ); take a couple of years at a community college. Assuming they exist in NY...I come from California where after two years in a CC you are guaranteed admission to a UC school depending on your grades (including UC Berkeley or UCLA). Not only that but IIRC you have an Associate's Degree which can come in handy in the interim if you're looking to get any short term academic work.

      The primary reas

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      If you really want prestige go to the best graduate program you can get into after you graduate.

      Look into transfer programs at the undergrad level. No one cares where you went to for freshman year. Frankly, no one in the educational-industrial complex wants to admit it, but no one cares where you graduated from, once you're older than about 30 yrs.

      Look in to transfer programs VERY carefully, don't make my "mistake". In my CS program I had to take calculus 3 times... once in high school (long story; I skipped a grade of math in high school) and once at "cheap" local school and once at "big" school.

    • You don't go to a fancy school for the classes, you go because of the research opportunities. If you are looking for a graduate education getting work done in a well-known lab (and get recommendations from the PI there) will be very useful.
    • For the B.Sc. degree, I agree with the parent 100%. Go to a good state school with a solid engineering program and learn as much as you can. Get some good internships during the summers to see what interests you and to gain experience. Get good grades, work hard and stay out of excessive levels of debt.

      In most engineering fields, a Masters Degree should be your initial goal. From there, you can decide what kind of work you would most like to be doing and see if a PhD makes sense given your career aspiration

  • by whistlingtony ( 691548 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:46PM (#37810616)

    It sounds like you're on the right path... aerospace with dual major in mechanical.

    You have some time though, so I'd suggest you get a hobby in the field you're going into. Help out some open source rocketry projects. Surely they exist. Launch some things up really high. Rig up some cameras and get pictures. Write some code. etc. etc.

    One day someone is going to be looking at your resume. If it's one in a thousand, you probably won't get noticed. Hopefully they'll be looking at it because Bob down in the lab says he knows this one guy who really kicked ass on this one project. Hopefully you'll already know the guy through the right circles. Hopefully they'll look you up on the web and see that you have your hand in the right projects, that you do good work, and that you love what you do.

    Also, it would be good to actually do the work you're seeking to go into. It'll tell you if you're on the right path for YOU.

    The secret to Industry is that you don't get promoted to do work .... You get promoted and paid when it's noticed that you're ALREADY doing the work and oh, perhaps they should pay you for that....

    • Developing your *love* for the work and showing it with publicly open projects is a great way to hone your skills with the subject, and get noticed for it! If you really dive into a project, it's likely some of the other members work for an aerospace company, or know someone who does. If you release some really cool stuff with a volunteer project, you'll be noticed more by head hunters who would be willing to pay you for it.

      In the end, you'd be demonstrating your love for the subject in a very visible way

    • If you want to get into SpaceX or a similar company, start by asking SpaceX or a similar company - ask them if they take summer interns, ask them what schools they take their interns from. Ask them where the majority of their engineering staff went to school. Ask them what their projected staffing needs will be in 6 to 8 years.

      The parent's advice about hobbies is also excellent, between two candidates, one with a 4.0 average and Masters' in Aerospace / M.E., and another with a 3.2 GPA, Bachelor's in Mecha

    • MIke Melville was not looking for a job. He build an airplane from plans (a Rutan design) and flew it out there to show Burt. Burt offered him a job, and that was that. No degree, he just demonstrated that he could do exactly what they were doing. That led him to be the first private astronaut. Sure others at scaled went to MIT or whatever. I sent a resume to Scaled (along with a number of other people I know) and I got a phone interview and the others didn't. Why? Probably because my resume is full of verb
  • I know lots of successful engineers. I are one.

    We were all blowing things up when we were your age.

  • by excelsior_gr ( 969383 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:56PM (#37810694)

    Don't limit you options based on the geographical factor. If the male/female ratio and the party scene are not important, then the location shouldn't be either.

    • by spineboy ( 22918 )

      Here, here +1 for the above.

          Having said that, The Johns Hopkins University has a great engineering school, and so does Virginia Tech

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      How about existing friends and family? A 5 hour drive is roughly the limit where you can go home a weekend for $MAJOR_EVENT. I've lived one year abroad where I went home exactly once for Christmas, it's a choice but I fully understand those that wouldn't. Both travel time and cost tends to get rather prohibitive unless both ends are right at a major airport.

    • by syousef ( 465911 )

      Don't limit you options based on the geographical factor. If the male/female ratio and the party scene are not important, then the location shouldn't be either.

      I'd go much further than saying don't limit your options. I'd say that unless you're prepared to do just about whatever it takes, don't try for something so competitive. There are people who'd sell their grandmothers to do that kind of work. At least moving usually doesn't violate any ethical boundaries.

      Also have a backup plan. You should reach for the stars (pun intended) but have a much more sensible mundane fallback option that is less competitive. Not everyone gets to be a rockstar, even if they play an

  • by riboch ( 1551783 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @01:58PM (#37810716)

    I am an Aerospace Engineering/Mathematics Grad Student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I do more theoretical work now, but I think I can offer a little advice.

    If you want to stay state side I would also recommend (in no particular order) you look at U of M, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Cornell (Aero/Mech), Caltech, Stanford (Aero/Mech) and the University of Maryland (more aeronautical).

    The biggest thing is to get involved with research projects. Look at current professors and their research interests, see if they have anything related to satellite/rocket design. Do not be afraid to ask/e-mail. Professors and grad students alike love getting undergrads involved, perhaps because they usually come free.

    If you do look at Michigan I can recommend looking at Professor Cutler and his RAX project or professors in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences (AOSS) department. Several people from my graduating class who took Aerosp 483 went on to SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace, so there is a network.

    For more U of M information look at:
    Professor Cutler: []
    RAX: []
    AOSS: []

    • Best advice so far. As an addendum, if you don't know how to code now, learn early (as in freshman year). That way, you can come to a professor early (end of freshman year, sophomore year) and be in a position where you can contribute to the analysis side of things as well as implementation. That's what gets names on publications, which are great to put on a resume, both for employment as well as grad school.
    • Mod parent up... although, as a Purdue alum, I can warn you that the Michigan student tend to be a bunch of arrogant fucks who talk too much shit about how great their football team is... But the Michigan alums that I work with tend to know what they are doing, and the small sat programs there are really cool... and SpaceX is full of a lot of Michigan people too.

    • by ffejie ( 779512 )
      Cornell Engineering isn't part of the land grant part of Cornell, so you'll have to reconsider matching that with your public education schools.
    • The parent has a good point about getting involved in research. It is good for experience, connections, fun (you might get to work on some cool stuff, after all), etc. It is especially valuable if you intend to go to graduate school, but certainly won't hurt your prospects for getting a job with a BS.

      I notice lots of responders advising that you go to this or that school. I am faculty in mechanical engineering at a top-tier university and I can tell you the following: as long as you go somewhere reputable

  • I suggest some military (self?) education, because its a fairly effective way to analyze long term campaigns...

    So... your goal... what intel do you have about the goal? When you asked SpaceX what did they say? When you talked to the engineers there, and especially the engineering department management, what did THEY suggest? Tell them the truth and HR will filter / blow you off. Tell them you need to interview an engineering dept manager for a school report, you Might make it thru the filter. Get all 0

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      This is utter bullshit. SpaceX does not know what they want in 7 years. And you do not know what you want in 7 years. Find out what you really like in engineering. Be aware that might change. Get your master degree. And make stick out of the crowd. Make a remarkable job in your master thesis. If you have the chance to go to conferences. Go there. Talk to people. Most job opportunities are brokered through friends and people you met. If they can remember you. Good thing.

      If you just run in one direction, bec

      • This is utter bullshit. SpaceX does not know what they want in 7 years. And you do not know what you want in 7 years.

        Very true, but better to run in the best guess direction now than dork around for 7 years, get a degree in Business / Liberal Arts, and then open your eyes and discover that regardless of what you want to do now, you are SOL if you still want to work for SpaceX.

        There's always time to change direction, at least until you've got a couple of years actual work experience, then you really are locked in.

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        OP has no plan, I provide a plan, you say something like "no plan survives contact with the enemy".
        As a thought experiment if nothing else, the OP needs to at least think about my plan, and if the evidence he sees makes him change his goals, well, then I think all 3 of us win.

        Personally I agree with you, he's misguided. Best way for him to see that is for him to research further and come to our conclusion.

        If you're gonna do the wrong thing, at least do it effectively, or if you're gonna do the wrong thing,

  • by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:01PM (#37810756)
    MIT isn't the answer, CalTech is. JPL is managed by CalTech and there is some crossover and plenty of educational opportunities there. Also, since SpaceX is based in southern California, being there helps. Aerospace is very strong in SoCal.

    Also, SpaceX hires a lot from companies like Boeing, Northrop, etc(all of my friends that work there are from said companies). In order to get in as an engineer at those companies(to use as a stepping stone), you generally need your security clearance or military experience. The military is always looking for engineer graduates, and you'll be able to pay down your loans as well. With a degree, you'll go in as an officer as well generally.
    • by EccentricAnomaly ( 451326 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:25PM (#37810928) Homepage

      Don't go to Caltech for aerospace unless you just want to learn airplanes. I work at JPL and have a lot of interaction with CalTech students who complain about the lack of space stuff in the aero department... they don't even have an orbit mechanics class. MIT is ok if you want to do systems engineering, but generally their aero department doesn't do much space stuff either (last I heard, their orbit class was taught by a grad student who took it upon himself to have some sort of orbit class).

      If you want to do SpaceX, I'd write them an email and ask for their advise, ask where they recruit from. They will probably want chemical prop and systems engineering people.

      From what I've seen the best schools if you want to do space are Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, Colorado, UT Austin, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Michigan, UCLA, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Carnegie Mellon and Stanford have awesome robotics programs. Michigan and Caly Poly SLO have excellent cube sat programs. Michigan, Stanford, and UCLA have excellent electric propulsion. Georgia Tech and Michigan have excellent systems engineering. Purdue, UT Austin, and Colorado have excellent orbit mechanics. And Purdue has probably the best chemical propulsion program. Georgia Tech has a really amazing senior design class (best out of the 5 that I've advised as an industry person).

      If you don't want to go to far, I'd recommend Michigan, Purdue, or CMU. But try to email SpaceX and see what they advise (but be aware that the person who responds will be biased towards their alma mater)

    • I opted non-military in my college years, then spent 12 years at a medical company - the lack of security clearance has effectively locked me out of a BIG chunk of the available engineering jobs in Florida for the last 8+ years. If you might consider military service, consider how to work it in with your college education and do it just for the clearance. If I were going to do it, I'd go for one of the short grad-school programs (if they still have such things, enlist when you get your B.S., serve for 4 y

  • Job skills are secondary to 'soft skills' (networking, interpersonal, manipulation) in terms of getting you where you want to go. The people at the 'top' of their fields are almost always talkers rather than doers. If you want to be the guy who actually invents something, you probably want the absolute best training you can get, push hard for MIT. If you're not going to be able to get that, you won't be able to compete with the guy who does, so you may as well go down the other path, and get credit and p

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      The people at the 'top' of their fields are almost always talkers rather than doers.

      One slight problem with this advice is the guy wants to get into the engineering dept at spacex... the entire "private space industry field" is something like 5 guys and their boss. A small group like that can't afford specialists, especially specialists in schmoozing.

      Now if he wanted to get into a giant military industrial complex contractor, thats another thing.

      • by Surt ( 22457 )

        It'll be a bigger field by the time he graduates. People are talking about that being a multi billion dollar industry within a few years as the federal government continue to withdraw satellite launching options from the market.

  • Choosing a school (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:05PM (#37810798)

    I'm an aerospace engineering student, nearly done with my undergrad career at Cal Poly Pomona, and I've also done research during two summers at Caltech.

    I know people that have attended several of the more prestigious schools and notice that the level of education you receive is almost entirely up to you. If you have the drive to learn, the school you choose is secondary. I will say that the difference between Caltech and a school like Cal Poly Pomona is that the students are much more enthusiastic about learning theory as opposed to simply knowing enough to get a project done.

    I think the best thing you can do is actually visit the campus during the school year if possible and attend some of the seminars or group meetings in your field of interest. It will give you a feel for the kinds of students that the university attracts or the types of problems they like to tackle.

    Another thing to look for, and ask current students of those universities, is how difficult/easy it is to get funding and school resources for engineering projects and competitions.

    Lastly, I now have a math minor and find it much more valuable to have more mathematics (advanced D.E.s, tensors, numerical analysis, set theory) under my belt than classes on the specifics of bearings or fasteners (something that my aerospace curriculum doesn't cover at all, but M.E. majors do). The way I see it, the abstract concepts are harder to learn on your own, but specifics of equipment you tend to learn as you deal with the equipment, read specs from catalogs or from your employer's protocol.

  • by dlevitan ( 132062 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:08PM (#37810818)

    A few questions/thoughts to think about:

    1) How do you know you'd enjoy working for the private space industry? Sure, it sounds cool, but until you try it, don't assume you'll love it.

    2) Academics is not the most important thing. More important is getting experience. Look at the schools you're interested in and see what professors have contacts with the industry. E-mail them and, ideally, try to meet them. Most professors are very approachable and interested in working with undergrads. Sure, you'll be essentially free/cheap labor for 4 years. But you'll get hands-on experience and learn a lot, and, if you're any good, the professor will drop a note to his former students at SpaceX or whatever other company, who'll get you a job as soon as you graduate.

    3) Take classes besides engineering. You'll learn a lot, meet new people (networking is the most important thing), and get a different perspective on life. And, you might decide something else is more interesting. Treat college as a chance to explore and learn, not a something to deal with on the way to what you think you want to do.

    4) Male/female ratio and social interaction in general is essential. If you go to a good school, you will be battered by problem sets, projects, etc... You survive that by having friends, a significant other, etc... You don't survive that by just working harder. Having a good social life (which does not mean partying all the time) is vital for having a good college experience and being successful. Plus, you never know when your friends will be able to help you later in life. And learning how to socialize (which you're probably not the best at right now) while in college means you have the skills to be confident both for future personal relationships and when you look for a job and need to deal with other people.

    5) If you/your parents don't have any money, go to a good state school or to a school that gives you a good scholarship and save >$100k. It's not really worth the hassle if you really take advantage of the opportunities in your school. And you can always work with a professor at another school during the summers.

    6) If you do have the money, go to the best school you can. The advantage of those schools is not that the education is better, but that the networking opportunities are much better and that the professors there have the best connections. MIT and RPI are good. Also Cornell has a top notch engineering program (and it's my undergrad alma mater). Carnegie Mellon is very good. Also Cooper Union, UPenn, Princeton, and Columbia. Probably some others as well.

    Good luck and remember, academics is not everything in life!

    • by TerranFury ( 726743 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:45PM (#37811080)


      Sure, you need to work hard in college. But it's also a once-in-a-lifetime to do things that, once you leave, it becomes much, much harder to do. You say the male/female ratio is unimportant? You say you don't care about social aspects? I suggest you reconsider.

      I'm not saying you need to become a binge drinker or a man-slut. But there's only one time in your life when you'll be able to date college-age girls respectably, and you don't want to waste it. If that sounds superficial, it's not entirely. As you get older, you'll find that people close up; they build walls; they get harder and harder to connect with. (Plus, college, unlike the real world, has admissions criteria.) You will never get closer to people than during college, and that's worth a lot. It's a learning experience for both of you, and without it you'll have lived quite a bit less.

      It's not unusual for students to travel, learn languages, see the world. For adults, this is discouraged. Once you get a job, you will get two or three weeks vacation annually. That's it. And time off on your resume is hard to explain. Don't waste your youth. You won't have the same socially-acceptable opportunities for exploration. Ever again.

      Sometimes I think that the purpose of life is to collect stories. How many stories will you have by the time you graduate?

      Connect with people. Travel. Learn a second language (You like engineering. German? Chinese?). Join organizations (Formula SAE, which builds racecars, is a good one) Become a well-rounded person. Don't waste opportunities, and don't fear failure. Just go out and do a bunch of stuff. Your 25-year-old self will have fewer regrets.

      • by geoskd ( 321194 )
        Another aspect to note it that engineering groups are teams, and they tend to be very self selecting teams. You'll find that most engineering groups select new members by having one or more engineers interview applicants as a final step to the process. They are looking for your abilities and skills, but they are also interested in your personality. After all, they have to spend at least 40 hours a week with you, maybe significantly more. Being a workaholic bore doesn't cut it with most of them, I have worke
  • Mechanical, aeronautical, electrical or computing. A good name school helps, but a 4.0 degree from a less stellar school is good too.
    • Mechanical, aeronautical, electrical or computing. A good name school helps, but a 4.0 degree from a less stellar school is good too.

      You learn much, much more from a top tier school. GPA is for schmucks. I'd rather have someone with a low GPA from a good school where they learned the theory behind stuff than a 4.0 from some middling school where they only know how to do cookbook problems. Space is full of hard problems, and if you want to make a difference in aerospace you need to seek out a school that will expose you to hard problems.

  • Don't consider any school within 800 km of home. (I would relax that some for MIT, but not for RPI.) It's a big planet, get used to moving around on it.

    As far as schools are concerned, check out MIT, Rice, Caltech and Ga Tech.

  • 'Cause if you do, you need two things: wicked smarts and mad social skills. Unless you are one-in-a-billion smart and have your PhD by age 15 (which you clearly haven't), you need to be focused on making this your life, and by learning who everyone is in your field. The best way - and I mean this sincerely - to get into an existing is to know someone on the inside who wants you there. The best way to get into a startup is to know, or be one of, the founders.

    That sounds like political bullshit, but it's tru

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      If you are good, you can make contacts. It is important to stick your head out of the crowd. And remember only the squeaky wheel gets the drop of oil.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:26PM (#37810936)

    Disclosure: I went to RPI, I work at SpaceX.

    Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Rochester Institute of Technology, Clarkson, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Rensselaer, Olin, Columbia, etc are all very decent schools for engineering. The goal here should be to end up with an aeromech degree and no debt. Bring up a Google map of the northeast and search for university... huge list, right?

    Private schools like RPI are good schools, but the costs make changing your mind late in your education a pretty expensive mistake. I'd recommend taking a bunch of different engineering courses early on (Computer Science, Structures, Electrical, Robotics), so you can really identify if aeromech is really something you like. CAD, Matlab, Python, and knowing your way around Office-like suites are interdisciplinary engineering staples. Space systems blend a ton of different aspects of engineering together, and you've only begun to scratch the surface in high school.

    What will make your resume pop out for any aerospace employer is spring/summer/fall work experience. You can land engineering internships simply with good grades and common sense, but some will be 6 months long, and bump your graduation date by a semester or two. This adds more cost, so beware. Also, some classes are only offered in the fall or the spring, and you may need them to graduate.

    Research projects are also a good way to go to get experience, but you get as much out as you put in. Try to butt into every aspect of the project, not just what you're working on, and understand how all parts fit together. You should leave the project knowing how to start up your own research if you were given the money.

    When it comes time to apply to internships and jobs, don't focus too much on the qualifications - entry level engineers never meet the qualifications of entry level engineering jobs. If they did, they wouldn't be entry level. Some advice I got: If the qualifications are what you want to know, apply for the job. If they're already things you know, you will be bored. Use your college recruiting office for ideas, but spend time going to websites of companies you see in the news - they all have careers pages and open jobs, despite what the news says about the economy.

    Bringing it back to the title, I feel it's best if you try to ignore that you want to go to School X and work at Company Y. Focus on being well-rounded and multifaceted for the first 2 years of a 4-year program, and then spend the next 2 years chasing the one aspect you've preferred the most. The roundedness will get you in the door at big (or little) engineering firms, and the late specialization will get you a full-time position fresh out of college.


    Asking at Slashdot is probably one of the few places which will give you an even higher number of competitors. Did you really think you were alone in that dream? ;)

  • by SpyPlane ( 733043 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @02:40PM (#37811042)

    If you want to work in Aerospace, have you considered applying to the Air Force Academy? It doesn't meet your radius obviously, but going to a school based on location might be a mistake in general. I don't know your situation, but you asked here so you are going to get all sorts of answers.

    Yes will you have to put in some time to the Air Force when you get out, but if you have an aero degree and some time in the air force, you are almost guaranteed a job when you get out. This idea is obviously a long shot as the Academy is probably harder by the numbers to get into than MIT, but it might be the best decision outside of Caltech.

  • When marketing the 'private space industry', the word 'space' is often used as if there's some equivalence between rising out of the stratosphere and attaining a useful orbit. The reason past space programs involved gigantic rockets with huge tanks of fuel, is that's how much energy is required to get very far out of the gravity well. No amount of engineering advances can change this much. People also use the word 'private' as if its a synonym for 'makes sense in the market'. But in this context its mor

  • I live in upstate NY and don't want to travel super far

    Well, it's good that you want to have a life with friends and family in NY. However, if you want to be a rocket engineer for new space firms, you're gonna have to go west eventually.

    There are boatloads of aerospace companies here in southern California, including SpaceX and Scaled and Lockheed.

    You could write them (Elon, Burt, Bezos) a letter now, explain your dream about being an engineer in the coming age of commercial spaceflight, and asking advice on where to study, what to study, and summer inter

  • Cornell. It's a no brainier if you can get in and want to stay in Upstate NY.
  • First, I've studied in Germany and while the universities here do (mostly) have no big names, they have high quality curricula. My guess is, that beside some low quality private universities, the US system also provides descend education on all state universities. So go there and try to master your stuff. Stick your head out of the crowd. Otherwise you may end up at SpaceX, but only as an unimportant minion who never comes near important and cool technology.

    The next thing is. Go to a university which matche

  • Look for related research projects you like. Get involved with them now if you can. Just communicating with the TA, and if your lucky the professor, will tell you if you will fit in. If you enjoy the project, the TA's like you, and you impress your professor, you are going to make the long haul. The name of a University is nothing compared to a professor with connections.

  • I was in your situation about 7 years ago myself, was visiting RPI, applied to MIT as my long shot. Got into MIT somehow, got my SB MechE, MS MechE (had the chance to go PhD, decided not to), working in industry now and I think I've got a little bit of perspective on the engineering school experience.

    From working directly with lots of engineers, helping profs select grad students, my own job search, and helping hire engineers there's a couple things you can do that'll greatly help your success no matter whe

  • On upper class student's projects, professor's research, with companies they know over summer break. Start talking to profs in the fall, so you get a job by next summer.

    Learn how to use real world shop tools, because everything you design needs to be built...right. Tear apart and put back together everything you can to gain experience on "what works", why and how mistakes get made & then fixed.

    Engineering is a profession where you never, ever stop learning...including the unsuccessful results which ar

  • US space, outside NASA, is a small industry. Space-X has only 1000 employees.

    In 1965, the Apollo program had 376,700 employees, about 36,000 within NASA and the rest contractors. NASA today has 18,000, which is too many considering how little NASA is doing right now.

  • Go to a technical school (MIT would be your best bet) and major in Aero-Astro Engineering. You realize that's a separate discipline, right?

    It's also the hardest one at MIT. I was in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering there, but had a handful of Aero-Astro friends. They were, every single one, intellectually impressive.

  • Times are changing too quickly to rely on something attractive to even be around 20 years from now. Be a well-rounded ME first, specialized in aerospace second, with a goal to work in private spaceflight third. It's OK to have a goal but do not ignore the potential to [have to] work in an unrelated field several years down the road. The economy is contracting long term. Do we still have the opportunity for supersonic travel? Do we still have reusable space transport? Do we still have a way to get to the moo

  • .
    Step 5: Profit!

    OK, seriously...

    As with any other engineering field, don't pass up any opportunities to learn new shit. You're only as valuable to your prospective employer as your (perceived) skills and willingness/ability to learn new ones.

    I didn't start out in aerospace. I thought I wanted to write video games, but ended up doing stints in telecom, finance, and at a US DOE research lab for most of my career. I eventually landed in aerospace/military. Vast majority of the aerospace jobs are with com

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Sunday October 23, 2011 @04:54PM (#37811948)

    Get a NASA internship or Co-op while you are going to school. You will meet a lot of people in the industry including those in private space. Also if you are a co-op and do well you will end up with a NASA job. Then you can apply for a Graduate Fellowship. They will pay you for 1 year of your salary while you go full time for grad school. This way you can get your education cheap. You do owe them a couple of years after that but use that time to build up your skills on great projects before applying to private space.

  • Five hours radius by Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy or Dragon?
  • May as well say that as a college freshman, RIT is pretty sweet, and can help you get a job wherever you want considering how many companies kiss up for interns and such.

  • your choice between Russian, Chinese or Persian. US space program is disappearing, so you will have to work abroad.
  • I know for a fact that SpaceX has a ton of Purdue grads. Mostly because they have a fantastic propulsion research center.

    So, either go to undergrad at Purdue and stay for a masters, or go to your state school, do really well and do your grad work at Purdue.

    Blue Origin has a decent amount of Purdue grads as well.

    Above all else you need to do excellent work in school have a decent amount of ambition. I did ok in school and "settled" for being happy with life instead having much ambition. :-)

  • Your RPI medal will get you a half price discount at a great school and a degree that will easily unlock many doors just on the name alone.

    RPI is where so many key technologies have originated (including Ethernet!) and that will continue to be true going forward. It's also a school that encourages undergraduate participation in such projects. You'll never regret the opportunity.

  • Here are the rankings for top 10. [] You can buy the full lists. but even better is send off questions to HR at SNC, SpaceX, Blue Horizons, etc and ask them. HR ppl are fairly stupid about the engineering and science world. They could not tell a total loser from Einstein. The reason is that most of them were losers from the business world (HR and Marketing is where the dredges of business worlds go to). BUT, HR WILL have a list of the top schools that they employ. And yes, they will be happy to tell you that.
  • "Academics come first hands down so male/female ratio and party scene aren't too important."

    Part of college is to have fun, because once you are older, you're not "allowed" to be irresponsible like you were in your college days. I studied engineering, and looking back, I wish I had been to more parties and met more people.

    When you start interviewing for jobs, you need to be able to hold a conversation, be interesting, talk about different things, and generally be a likable person. An active social life will

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson