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What is it like working for NASA on a day to day basis?

I am a fifteen year old sophomore in high school and I have always been fascinated in space technology and NASA, in general. My parents and I traveled to Washington D.C. about two years ago, and one of my favorite places was Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. I was completely blown away with everything I learned and observed! This led me to wonder about what kind of jobs people could have working for NASA, or what some popular jobs may be? Any thoughts or opinions would be appreciated! #science #technology #aerospace #astronomy #robotics #astrophysics #space #nasa


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Charles M’s Answer

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I don't know what it is like to work for NASA, but I did work for Orbital Sciences and received an award from NASA, because NASA was one of our customers.


The hardware you saw at the Air and Space Museum was not made by NASA. It was made by companies that NASA contracted to build it. So if you want to build cool hardware, you want to work at an aerospace or defense company. If you want to prepare for and manage space missions, or do research on various things, then NASA might be one of the places you could work at.


NASA was started because the United States government was the only group with enough money to send a man to the moon and bring him safely back again, to achieve the goal set by President Kennedy. Now that that goals was achieved, there are a lot of companies all over the world that build spacecraft.


look up https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spacecraft_manufacturers


Hope that helped you understand NASA a bit more and the relationship between spacecraft and NASA.


If you want more information about jobs at NASA, there is the http://www.nasa.gov/about/career/index.html website.


It basically refers you to LinkedIn, which lists actual open positions at NASA and related companies. Ask your teacher about accessing LinkedIn.


Thank you so much for the advice and information! I really appreciate it! Caitlin V.

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Matthew’s Answer

Hi Caitlin,
There are many facets to what NASA accomplishes along with their contractors (as Mr. Hurd pointed out NASA utilizes many contractors to complete their various projects). I actually was lucky enough to have had a professor who works out of the Glenn Research Center (NASA location based in Cleveland, OH) where they perform many lab studies/experiments to better understand engineering/physics phenomena. NASA is much more than just a space-exploration group as much of their research not only applies to better understanding how to travel through space but also applies to phenomena experienced on Earth. I cannot speak to what different "popular" jobs might be at NASA but any type of engineering discipline (Chemical, Biomedical, Electrical, Computer, Aerospace, or Mechanical Engineering) is sure to be found somewhere in the group. As Mr. Hurd mentioned you can explore NASA's website and I would highly suggest trying to reach out to some individuals who work at NASA to interview them and see what they have to say about their experiences.


Thank you so much for the advice and information! I really appreciate it! Caitlin V.

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Greg’s Answer

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I worked at NASA Ames as a grad-student researcher (i.e., neither a contractor nor a government employee, though I worked with both), and it's definitely different from industry in some key respects. Contractors and government employees both do many of the same things on a day-to-day basis, but with contractors, their employer can lose the contract in any given year, at which point anywhere from a few to all of the contractors themselves might be laid off. Government employees have more security in that respect but tend to be paid much less (though pensions could make up for it once upon a time) and according to a much more regimented pay scale, and they're subject to furloughs and shutdowns when Congress can't get their act together. Both sides therefore face regular cycles of uncertainty that aren't as common in industry.


My impression is that the timescales, documentation requirements, and "red tape" in general are all much larger within NASA (and other government facilities) than in industry, but the latter definitely has its own red tape, too--and there tends to be more of it, the bigger the company is. (In that sense, government is just the logical extension to "really, really big.") Offices, furniture, etc., in government facilities tend to be, um...somewhat historical. On the other hand, there are some really excellent talks given internally; opportunities to get special access to things like launches or landings (I saw two shuttle landings from the NASA viewing area at Edwards AFB); internal tours of things like wind tunnels and supercomputers (at Ames) and probably rocket-engine test stands, the neutral-buoyancy simulator, and similar things at other facilities; etc. It's hard to overstate the "cool" factor; there's stuff happening at NASA that happens almost nowhere else in the world.


There's a very different "feel" to working at a government site, too--in my experience, they're almost all "gated communities" with highly restricted access (though probably more so at the ones that share a military base and airfield), so they have this weird, kind of quiet, not-quite-campus vibe. I personally like it, but it's definitely isolating.


(Caveat: all of this is recollections from 20+ years ago, so take everything with a grain of salt.)


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Skyler’s Answer

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Hi Caitlyn,
I can vouch for all that the previous comments have said. In general, working at any NASA center has a wow and cool factor that cannot be beaten. Here is my write-up from LinkedIn that is a very brief description of some of what I do at NASA JSC:


[We are] passionate about supporting NASA and our exploration goals in LEO and beyond. Being a small part of our nations' human spaceflight program through my role in International Space Station Operations has been the greatest joy I could hope for in a career. As an ETHOS Instructor, I train Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Flight Controllers, and Flight Directors on the ISS Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, Internal Thermal Control Systems, and all aspects of the crew and ground response to any potential spacecraft emergency. As a supervisor on the Integrated Mission Operations Contract II (IMOC II), I am responsible for hiring the best and brightest future leaders of human spaceflight ground operations.


All types of engineers are needed at NASA, across the government Civil Servant positions and the multitude of contractor companies that support NASA missions. Dream big and reach for the stars! Personally, I really enjoy working in human spaceflight operations because the environment is 24/7/365 in support of the ISS crew, very dynamic, and requires a ton of interpersonal, leadership, and communication skills that many engineers don't get to exercise. And I work with Astronauts on a very regular basis, what more could you hope for when you are a space cadet and a NASA nerd ;)


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