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Careers in Space Science

Space Science

Careers in space science may include working on a new satellite or developing technology to map a distant planet. You could be helping to make new discoveries about our solar system or using satellites to study pollution on Earth. You might be connecting the world’s most remote communities or helping in disaster management. Space technology affects almost every part of our lives, be it weather forecasting, satellite TV, global communications or satellite navigation. A career in the space industry could include any of these areas and much more. Because the opportunities are so varied, the qualifications needed to work in the space industry also vary considerably. It provides employment for people with a wide range of skills and qualifications, including electrical and mechanical engineering, IT and software systems, physics, mathematics, space science or aerospace engineering. Many of those working in space science have a PhD.

SPECIALISED FIELDS

Astronomy is the scientific study of the universe, especially of the motions, positions, sizes, composition, and behaviour of celestial objects. It is also the means by which latitudes and longitudes of places on the Earth’s surface are determined, allowing sea vessels to navigate. Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the study of the physical nature of stars, galaxies, and the universe. Astrobiology is about how life begins and evolves, and the possibility of its existence anywhere other than the Earth. Astrochemistry is the study of the chemical processes in space, especially those of organic molecules needed for life as we know it. A career as a space physicist would likely involve knowing about space weather, the operation of communication systems, and weather satellites.

AN ASTRONAUT

To become an astronaut, you will have to demonstrate a high level of fitness and the right mental attitude to spend long periods of time in space. Scientific and technical competence is essential, particularly in engineering, physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology or earth sciences. Many mission specialists also have a PhD. Being an astronaut is not an occupation to be treated lightly, or considered as a singular goal. Astronaut training in India is yet to begin, but the process is being put in place. When there is manned space flight in India, the first candidates could come from one of the armed forces, or they could be scientists from ISRO, etc.

EDUCATIONAL PATHWAYS

If you have any intention of establishing yourself in the space industry, aim for plus two/equivalent with physics, chemistry and mathematics. If this is followed by physics major or physics honours degree, you can build a career in astrophysics or astronomy after MSc in Physics. Alternatively, you can opt for an integrated MSc in Physics at institutions like the IISER, NISER, Bhubaneswar, UM DAE CBS, Mumbai, National Institute of Technology, Surat, a few IITs, etc and follow it up with a PhD. Admission would be through competitive examinations. Graduates with the four-year (a) BTech Aerospace Engineering (b) BTech in Avionics or (c) BTech Physical at the Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology (under Department of Space, Govt of India) at Thiruvananthapuram (www.iist.ac.in) and fulfilling minimum specified academic performance will be absorbed in the Indian Space Research Organisation (www.isro. gov.in). Postgraduate degree programmes in astronomy/astrophysics or space science are few and far between, though some universities offer astrophysics as a specialisation in their postgraduate physics degree programmes. An engineering degree in any discipline would also provide the foundation for a PhD in Astronomy or Astrophysics. Admission to PhD programmes would normally be through an entrance examination.

PROSPECTS

Space scientists may work as faculty at universities, pursue independent research, publish papers, guide research students, teach classes, sit on academic committees, referee papers for publication, and write proposals to fund their research. Astronomers/astrophysicists work in government/national observatories, space research agencies, planetariums, science museums, and may also work in mass media and science communication. Other opportunities are in government and institutions such as Indian Space Research Organisation and DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation. Astronomers may be employed by organisations and companies to design and manufacture telescopes, write software, and do many other tasks in support of space laboratories/ missions, ground-based observatories and data processing and analysis. In considering a career in space, you should also be aware of the fact that the majority of careers take place here on the ground; only a relatively small number of people actually get the opportunity to leave the Earth for the limitless boundaries of space. For each astronaut who makes it to space, there are thousands of support people on the ground without whose skills, knowledge and efforts, the mission would not have been possible. Along with an opportunity to uncover the mysteries of the universe and study interstellar bodies and phenomenon, astronomy or astrophysics teaches one observational, computational, mathematical and logical skills needed to analyse and solve complex problems. It also teaches the ability to interpret, explain and effectively communicate complex scientific data. Employers in many fields, including medical physics, geophysics, oil and gas exploration, find these skills particularly attractive. Technical writing is also a possibility for space scientists. Establishing yourself in space careers would involve long years of study, and the competition for jobs is stiff, while salaries are reasonable. Therefore, if you are considering a career in space, you must be motivated by a love of discovery and the pursuit of knowledge.

PROMINENT INSTITUTIONS

FIVE YEAR INTEGRATED MSC Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, Kolkata, Mohali, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram (www.iiser-admissions.in), UM-DAE Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences (CBS), Mumbai (cbs.ac.in), National Institute of Science Education & Research at Bhubaneswar (niser.ac.in), Integrated Science Education & Research Centre (ISERC), Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan (visva-bharati.ac.in), University of Hyderabad (www.uohyd.ernet.in), SVNIT, Surat (www.svnit.ac.in), Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee (www.iitr.ac.in), Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (www.iitk.ac.in), Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (www.iitm.ac.in) MTECH/ME Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi (www.bitmesra.ac.in), Manipal University, Manipal (www.manipal.edu) PHD Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital, (aries.ernet.in/), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore (www.iiap.res.in), Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune (www.iucaa.ernet.in/), National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Pune (www.ncra.tifr.res.in/), Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad (www.prl.res.in), Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore (www.rri.res.in), Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc) (www.iisc.ernet.in), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (TIFR) (univ.tifr.res.in), S N Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata (www.bose.res.in).