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

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the marry-into-it dept.

Education 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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be smart (-1, Troll)

planimal (2454610) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810494)

don't be dumb. you can start by not asking dumb questions

Re:be smart (0)

Lifix (791281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810544)

Being an engineer is about learning how to solve problems. 'Asking Slashdot' is about getting other people to solve your problems. If you want to be an engineer, you had better learn how to start solving your own problems, or answering questions like the one you posed, by yourself. That's my best advice for getting into your chosen field.

Re:be smart (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810584)

If you want to be an engineer, you had better learn how to start solving your own problems, or answering questions like the one you posed, by yourself. That's my best advice for getting into your chosen field.

Crap. Asking questions is good. Building on the experience of others is great. Be ready to challenge the wisdom of others but don't refuse every source of existing information.

Re:be smart (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810592)

That's good advice. But if you start out with the idea that you want to get a very specialized job in a microscopic startup industry but don't want to travel more than a few hours from your location, the chances of success are negligible in any case.

Re:be smart (5, Insightful)

Rakshasa-sensei (533725) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810856)

Actually it isn't good advice; there's nothing 'good' about a telling a young person not to ask advice on life choices. The roads in life are not just simple 'engineering problems', since they are more often solved through experience rather than analysis by an inexperienced person.

For one thing those with experience can tell you when you're asking the wrong question, which is not that easy to deduce through analytical reasoning.

E.g. the 5 hour radius limit is stupid, studying far from home is not a disadvantage. Hell, a stint abroad is definitely strongly recommended, not just for academic but life experience reasons. Also don't study something because you want to get into a company, study it because you love what you are doing and going to bed feels like a waste. (to the point where your personal projects end up competing for time with your 'real' schoolwork)

You don't get into a place like SpaceX by wanting to work on spaceships, and then studying the right things. You get in by being exceptionally good at some skill they need, and to become exceptionally good at something you need to spend countless hours honing your skills, and only way you will be able to do that is if you like doing it. So don't fret that much about how to gain useful skills, instead do interesting stuff and the threads will connect in surprising ways.

Re:be smart (4, Informative)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810610)

This is bad advice. Successful engineers spend lots of time asking questions and soliciting advice.

Re:be smart (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810766)

So you never asked a single question in your entire career?

Re:be smart (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810808)

That's about retarded, if you ask me. Engineers are pretty much specialists. Specialists aren't necessarily the best people to solve networking, social, and employment problems. I'm sure that you're not a retard - you've just had one of those infamous blonde moments, right?

Re:be smart (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810830)

Absolute nonsense. When I was starting out, I asked lots of questions of the more experienced engineers. That's how you learn the ocean of practical knowledge they don't put into the books. Now that I've been at it for over 20 years, I'm the one getting asked the questions, and I'm happy to answer them. In your world everyone sits on little islands reinventing the wheel and never sharing sometimes completely unique experiences.

Re:be smart (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810914)

Being an engineer is about learning how to solve problems. 'Asking Slashdot' is about getting other people to solve your problems.

So you're saying he's destined for management?

Re:be smart (1)

ProfessorFreaksworth (2491970) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811106)

The first sentence is true. The second is completele backwards. None of us know so much we can solve every problem. The more people you ask or collaborate with the more succesful you'll be.

A little history before my advice (just like everyone else, I love to give my opinion)... I had to leave high school and start working full time because of one those curve balls life can throw you. On one hand I was quite angry because I was preparing to enter university to study sciences (in general to keep the story short) and on the other it was so exciting because I was a free bird and I could do whatever I wanted.

I did do a lot of shit work over the first few years and thought this was what was in store for me because of my lack of education. However my interest in sciences did not end when I left high school and I continued to pursue my interests through library books and projects @ home. Then I figured out the key to start doing what I wanted... Ask questions.

I asked. I sent resumes to companies that worked in my fields of interest. I called them to find out what they are doing and how I may get involved. There are a lot of really great people out there who respond to enthusiasm and you will find some that will give you the information you want and in some cases may even take you under thier wing.

The internet has made it even easier to not only ask questions (of other people or to pursue on your own) but also to get involved with other people who have the same interest as you. I've used it since day one.

The first 5 years of work sucked but the following 20 have been awesome. The only time I met closed doors was when I tried to get a job in government. It seems they will take someone fresh out of university over someone with 10+ years of relevant experience. Meh... I hate bureaucracy anyway.

The short of it is asking questions has taken me everywhere I wanted to go. I still have no formal education but the work I do in the company I'm currently at has a lot of crossover with what the engineers are doing and it really pisses them off. :P

Re:be smart (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811124)

Notably, this is one of the biggest differences between engineers of pre-internet era and those of post-internet era. Pre-internet information was scarce, and skill to find information on your own was very valuable.

Internet changed this upside down. Now it's a flood of information, and those who are considered best are those who can pick the needed information out of the constant stream of useless informational overload. In this regard, using slashdot and similar sites as a filter against general flood and a starting point to isolating which pieces of information are important is a mark of a successful modern engineer.

Re:be smart (1)

Raisey-raison (850922) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811404)

Being an engineer is about learning how to solve problems.
'Asking Slashdot' is about getting other people to solve your problems.

If you want to be an engineer, you had better learn how to start solving your own problems, or answering questions like the one you posed, by yourself.

The act of asking a question shows you want to learn, understand that someone else may have the answer and are willing to listen. This is how science and engineering work. To suggest that asking a question is a problem is ludicrous.

And btw, a book and a website are just efficient consolidations of (often but not always) one person's knowledge - it's really no different conceptually than asking a question.

How to be smart (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810800)

First, design and build your own space craft.

Second, pilot that spacecraft to Mars.

Third, gather some unique samples of stuff you find lying around on Mars.

Fourth, preserve those samples for future experimentation.

Fifth, pilot your spacecraft back to Earth, where you will turn over those samples to some carefully selected colleges and universities.

Sixth, patent all the cool shit you used in your spacecraft.

Seventh, patent all the algorithms and other cool shit you used to navigate to Mars and back - not to mention navigating around on the Mars surface.

I see nothing but profit here. You might rival Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and that guy in Mexico if you can pull all of that off! Don't forget the patents - they're more important than all the other cool shit!

Re:be smart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811348)

Jealous because you work at McDonald's and he has loftier goals?

Missing information (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810510)

Which languages do you speak? Indian and Chinese probably have the most potential.

don't go china inless you want to die in a cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810570)

don't go china inless you want to die in a cheap and unsafe space craft

Re:don't go china inless you want to die in a chea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810606)

or get run over while walking to the launch pad.

Re:don't go china inless you want to die in a chea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810686)

Given the number of astronauts killed on US missions (2 shuttles and quite a few other "accidents"), i find that remark extremely amusing.

Re:don't go china inless you want to die in a chea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810760)

what the fuck is inless? its UNLESS you moron

Be cool (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810524)

Stay in school Dont do DRUG or drank AKAHOL

Co-op (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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...

Re:Co-op (2)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811194)

Build a rocket and then upload the video of it blowing up just off the launchpad to youtube.

Go to a good state school (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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

Who you know MATTERS (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

State school = less debt. (5, Informative)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Go to a good state school (2)

robbrit (1408421) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810780)

+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 class projects.

If you're looking for lower cost, there are a number of universities with good engineering programs in Canada such as McGill, Queens, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo that are fairly close to New York state. They're all publicly funded and so even paying the international student rate is often cheaper than private universities in the USA like MIT.

Re:Go to a good state school (1)

FunkSoulBrother (140893) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810892)

I think you underestimate how much those non-engineering majors are drinking.

Re:Go to a good state school (1)

robbrit (1408421) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811046)

Haha, when I said "a lot" I meant on an absolute basis, not relative to the rest of the student population ;)

Re:Go to a good state school (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810864)

Recognize that with fancy schools you are paying for the prestige, the education is not much different.

This is just not the case for MIT. I went to MIT and what I got out of it was not just prestige. My classes were often taught by some of the greatest geniuses in their fields. E.g., when I took Computer Science 101 (or 6.001 as it was called at MIT), the class was taught by Sussman and Ableson, the two authors of SICP. Sussman is also one of the two inventors of Scheme. At the time SICP hadn't even been published yet, and Scheme hadn't yet been widely released. I was getting an education like no other place in the world.

Being taught by geniuses of this sort was utterly inspiring. You'd think that such people might be great researchers but terrible teachers, but that was anything but the case, In actuality, they were usually great teachers, who exuded unbridled and contagious enthusiasm for what they did.

MIT is also a bit unusual, in that it offers numerous opportunities for undergraduate students to wok with famous professors, doing real research. As far as I am aware, this is rather unusual, and is a great opportunity, if you take advantage of it. If you do interesting research as an undergraduate, then you are a shoe-in to a good graduate program.


P.S. Though, one shouldn't discount prestige, either. I feel I rarely have a problem getting my foot in the door at a company due to having an MIT education on my resume.

Re:Go to a good state school (2)

jorghis (1000092) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810944)

I will grant you the value of prestige in getting your foot in the door at companies.

However, I really don't believe in the value of having courses taught by famous people. Data structures is simple enough that being taught the subject by a pioneer in the field versus someone who only has a masters degree s/he got last month isn't going to make much of a difference.

It's great that you had good teachers who were also famous, but realize that quite often there are equally good if not better teachers who are significantly less accomplished. You don't need to pay a bazillion dollars a year for an MIT education to get a good data structures professor. :)

Re:Go to a good state school (2)

cowdung (702933) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811132)

While I certainly think MIT is a great place to go. I went to a state school and was taught classes by world famous professors as well.

State schools also have world famous professors. :)

Re:Go to a good state school (2)

meustrus (1588597) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811000)

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 reason for this, however, is that community colleges have small class sizes and the professors aren't there to do research. The last place you want to be in your Calculus, Physics, Discrete Logic, whatever classes is a huge lecture hall with a hot shot researcher who can't teach and has a thick, almost indecipherable accent. The #1 problem with most larger schools is that because their funding is mostly research-based, most of the faculty are there to do research and therefore are completely unaccountable for their teaching performance. At my school many departments prohibit the registrar from publishing the instructor when students are signing up for classes because the advisors would tell students to stay out of Y professor's class so they'll actually learn something.

All that said, from what I've heard MIT (also Stanford) is a little special. If you can get into the program (which you should try if you think you have any chance) it's probably worth it to skip the CC. Be thinking about how you'll pay for it though, because that's two extra years of high tuition compared to nearly no tuition for CC (might again be my California background). You should probably have some small-time job for some period of time to help pay and to put on your resumé, but even more fun, forward-looking, and worthwhile would be to be in some student group devoted to engineering in your field. What kinds of groups are available could be part of your college decision; this is an area where I've heard MIT and Stanford excel.

Re:Go to a good state school (1)

meustrus (1588597) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811074)

Also, just figured out what RPI is. And I say, EW. Maybe it's just because Rensselaer sent me more glossy junk mail than every other university combined, or because I know that the schools that do that are trying to get more people to apply so they can turn more of them down, thereby looking more "selective" to the ranking agencies.

Re:Go to a good state school (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811004)

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. On the good side, I improved my calculus grade each time up to A+ level. The prof actually kidded me about how I wrote the answer key... well I darn well should have after taking the same class 3 times... By somewhat more careful planning I only had to take intro to sociology once, early american history once, C++ once, "world religions" once, etc

Could I appeal the non-transfer? Eh, maybe. Could I have tested out? Well, since I achieved a A+ without much effort, I should think so. But I had full 100% employer tuition reimbursement, and an A pads my GPA more than a transfer credit, so ...

Not much to it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810578)

Just get into to the best school you can and apply for internships every summer (including after freshman year). If you go to a good school then it's usually pretty easy to get an internship at a name-brand company. From that point on all the other name-brand companies will want to hire you.

My friendly advice (-1, Troll)

dev584 (2491968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810582)

This can really help [] you with this.
I also work for space industry now (I was partially responsible for guidance systems on recently launched Juno mission.).
The above site has invaluable information about how to get started in this industry.


Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810604)


You're Canadian? Try the ÉTS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810602)

I cannot talk for the other country, but in Canada the ÉTS ("École de technologie Supérieure" which mean "Superior Technology School") just started a new program for their engineer. It's a Master's degree in aerospace that I'm planning to join this year. (Look at page 8).

I would love to give you more detail, but their whole website is in french. Also, since it's quite new, I don't know it's worth in the aerospace industries. But I'm sure a few of you would find it interesting!

Do the work before they pay you for it (5, Informative)

whistlingtony (691548) | more than 2 years ago | (#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....


Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810664)

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. Most resume submitters never ever do this.

Re:Do the work before they pay you for it (1)

werepants (1912634) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810666)

From what I can tell, this is spot on. Don't focus just on grades, the school, and having a double major under your belt - work on extracurricular stuff, a lot of universities have undergrad research programs that would really improve a resume.

University of Colorado at Boulder is the big aerospace school in my area, and they put motivated undergrads to work on various sounding rocket projects and even some orbital experiments. Getting involved with something like that will give you the contacts and experience to have a leg up vs everybody else graduating with you.

Re:Do the work before they pay you for it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810904)

Something like this [] would be a blast (in more ways than one)!

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.

learn Chinese (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810622)

The USA is in a long term serious decline for anything to do with science and engineering. These fields are moving to places like China which put a larger value on education. You'd be well advised to consider moving overseas, because the trend is clear: less and less of this kind of work happens in the United States. The aerospace industry here has been gutted since the 1960's. It still exists to some extent, but not nearly like it used to, and it's declining all the time.

Ask the company. (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810652)

No one ever asks the blasted company. It's sad.

What you want to know is "what is the company looking for in an employee"... well... ask them. I'm sure their HR department would be happy to respond to an email.

My friendly advice (0)

dev587 (2491980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810660)

This can really help [] you with this.
I also work for space industry now (I was partially responsible for guidance systems on recently launched Juno mission.).
The above site has invaluable information about how to get started in this industry.


Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810704)

Yes, well done.
Haven't fallen for one of those in years (though I did have some suspicions before clicking).

Re:My friendly advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810714)

obvious goatse is obvious

Blow lots of stuff up. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810680)

I know lots of successful engineers. I are one.

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

Rochester Institute of Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810682)

RIT has a good Mechanical Engineering program (where you can specialize in aerospace engineering [] ). If you do decide to go to RIT, try to get into their Honors program, it will make your life 500 times more awesome since you're focusing on academics.

Why the 5-mile radius? (3, Insightful)

excelsior_gr (969383) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why the 5-mile radius? (1)

spineboy (22918) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811200)

Here, here +1 for the above.

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

Re:Why the 5-mile radius? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811374)

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.

Research the satisfaction level at the university (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810700)

I went to MIT. It was kind of brutal at times, but I loved it anyway. I have a number of friends who didn't get into MIT and went to RPI. They all hated it. They said that they felt like their time at RPI was being in an uncaring engineer-producing factory. They also said that it is located in the "armpit of the country".

So, I guess my advice would be to work harder so that you get into MIT. ;)

But, of course, there are a number of good engineering schools. And it may be that RPI has learned since how to make its students happier--I went to college a while ago. It seems as if spending some time trying to determine how happy the students at various schools are with their experience would be time very well spent. You don't want to have your joy for what you love to do crushed out of you.


P.S. I ended up working as a software engineer on a space telescope (RXTE). I learned C++ and then applied for the job and they hired me. Getting a good education, keeping your skills up to date over your entire career, and persistence towards what you want to achieve seems to always be a good approach.

Formula SAE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810702)

Formula SAE (undergrads build small race cars and compete) is a fantastic training experience for any kind of vehicle engineering. The cycle of design-analyze-build-test-repair-repeat is an excellent compliment to a standard engineering education. Several of the judges and organizers of the competition work at SpaceX and they attend the competitions to recruit new engineers.

Home page for Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) student events, [] Note that SAE also serves aerospace engineers, not just automotive.

Ongoing discussions about building and racing these cars are on this site: []
Read this forum topic first, before posting: []

In NY State, there are excellent FSAE teams at RPI, Cornell and also at RIT (Rochester).

WPI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810708)

WPI is a good school in Massachusetts, it's about as selective as RPI from what I understand and it's not in Troy, NY. Also, don't go into school close minded like this. The reality is that you probably don't know enough about aerospace engineering to know if that's what you really want to do. Start there, but look look into other fields too, or at least other sub-fields in ME/aerospace.

Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student (5, Informative)

riboch (1551783) | more than 2 years ago | (#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: []

Re:Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810842)

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.

Re:Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student (1)

EccentricAnomaly (451326) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810988)

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.

Re:Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student (1)

ffejie (779512) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811254)

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.

Suggest military education (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810754)

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 007 on this if necessary. Unless they're here on /. with us, which is possible, I'm not thinking your intel from /. will be worth much.

Next check out the opfor, that being all the other applicants at SpaceX, what is your edge? Teachers naturally try to convince their students the most important techniques for success are being a follower and getting high grades, and many/most kids are stary eyed enough to believe them, the fools. I'm not 100% certain that is remotely relevant. I'm guessing that if SpaceX gets 1000 qualified applicants per position, if you are in fact the #1 GPA in the nation that might help, otherwise you need another strategy... join the model rocket club that the hiring manager is a member of? Something like that?

Finally check out yourself. Very few people pick a career at age 17 and stick with it.

Re:Suggest military education (1)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811362)

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, because you decided so with 17 and then plotted a "campaign". Then you might end at the designated destination. However, most likely that is in 7 years from now not the place you wanted to be. Try to live and live with open eyes. Normally opportunities just come by. Do not hesitate to take them. As long as is does not mean to drop out of university. Never ever do that. In the long run you will loose that way.

MIT isn't the answer (2)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:MIT isn't the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810866)

Haters gonna hate...

Re:MIT isn't the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810922)

I agree with bhcompy, the security clearance can be a "deal breaker" when selecting a candidate. In order to get security clearance as a civilian, you must be employed in a "need to have" job, but it costs the company thousands of dollars to do this, and they must hire you first. Kind of a "you can't get there from here" scenario. A military ride can get you there, especially if you can get into a "nuke" job like Trident. Best thing for you right now is keeping your grades up and learn stuff on your own so if/when you do the ASVAB, they detect you have special skills and aptitude. If you play your cards right, you can get post-grad through the mil program as well.

Good luck to you and don't ever give up! Success occurs only moments after you throw in the towel! Trust me, there are few things more rewarding than watching a twilight flyby of the ISS and thinking to yourself "Wow, I helped do that!".

MIT and CalTech aren't good for space (4, Informative)

EccentricAnomaly (451326) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810928)

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)

Re:MIT and CalTech aren't good for space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811212)

SpaceX heavily favors project experience. Grades are nice, but you need to actually build something to get noticed. I met two engineers there through a formula SAE competition in California. Many of the schools mentioned are good at that. But actually building stuff, like making rockets, cars, robots... That is your ticket in at SpaceX and many of the hot companies. Make sure you aren't just reinventing the wheel, or putting mentos in diet coke when you select your project. While he was in school (At Cal Poly SLO) Burt Rutan wasn't just strapping model airplanes to his pickup truck and driving around... He was performing design validation in a scientific manner. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to have a technical mind, have a demonstrated (and genuine) love for building things, and have the grades to prove you have follow through.

Re:MIT and CalTech aren't good for space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811238)

Check out the NASA Space Grant programs as well; they have an informative website [] with lots of contacts [] for you to call and ask questions. Good luck!

Re:MIT isn't the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811224)

As a bonus, in the military you get to go and shoot some ragheads

consider your strategy carefully (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810794)

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 patent for his inventions by being a direction setter.

Re:consider your strategy carefully (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811048)

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.

Re:consider your strategy carefully (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811290)

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 (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Academics is not the most important (5, Insightful)

dlevitan (132062) | more than 2 years ago | (#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!

Don't waste your youth. (4, Insightful)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

ignore male/female and regret it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811370)

Nearly all of the good ones find spouses in college, as do some of the bad ones.

The bad ones become available again, via divorce. The good ones tend to remain unavailable for the next half century.

So there you are, 35 years old, still thinking that you fit in with the college-age crowd at some club or bar or whatever. You don't. Eventually you will have some awkward experience that forces you to notice this fact.

Like a home seller in a crashing market, you can't lower your standards fast enough. You don't wish to "settle", but you must or it only gets worse. Your choices are all undesirable in numerous ways: diseased, psycho, dumb, evil inlaws, violent, in a never-ending custody fight, irresponsible, ugly, divorced, unfaithful, criminal, infertile, drug-addicted, etc.

Your spouse(s), if any, will affect your life far more than your education. Don't waste the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find a good spouse.

do as well as you can in core engineering program (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810826)

Mechanical, aeronautical, electrical or computing. A good name school helps, but a 4.0 degree from a less stellar school is good too.

Re:do as well as you can in core engineering progr (2)

EccentricAnomaly (451326) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810952)

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.

Travel Super Far (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810870)

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.

Do you really want it? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37810876)

'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 true. You know how I got into NASA? My mother was the dental hygienist for a scientist there, and they chatted at appointments over the years about what her son did (aero engr). One time, he asked if I might be interested in lasers. Next thing you know I'm meeting the teem and chatting with the techs - and I understood the science and asked meaningful questions. I knew some CAD - back when almost nobody did. I talked with the math guy, and it turns out they are so sensitive to performance that they program some of their routines for laser time-of-flight in assembly/ machine code, so we talked about that since I learned to code on the 6502 in the summer of my 7th grade year (I was too poor to buy a compiler, so I hand compiled assembly into machine code). And boom - some medium smart kid with a year of undergrad engineering, a middling 3.6 gpa, got a co-op position with NASA. My story isn't unusual - the stack of resumes that come in for the truly "open" positions in these firms are filled with 4.0+ gpas, high profile school names, and activities that make Mother Theresa look like Hitler.

If you really, truly, want to make a go of it in a very selective field, you need to go where the contacts are. Visit colleges that (ideally) already have connections with companies. Make sure the professors are rubbing shoulders with the SpaceX guys regularly - actively collaborating if possible - and find out how you can get on whatever research project they're working on.

Being smart and getting a good degree won't cut it unless you plan on starting your own company (which isn't a bad idea, but does involve risk and money). Don't get me wrong - that IS a prerequisite. But just that will only put you in with the thousands of other smart kids who like rocketry. You need to get contact with people. Until the SpaceX guys know who you are, you're just another faceless piece of paper.

I'm not involved in aerospace anymore - the math is hard, the jobs are few, and I have too many other interests to be all consumed in my work - so I don't know where to tell you to go. Ideally, it will be a place with an active private-ish space department, and a place to "play" (launch things). I recommend taking an alternate approach - pretend you're looking for a PhD or Post-Doc program, not an undergrad. The shift in focus will put yo on the right track to find the PEOPLE you need to work with to get into the industry. Once you're in and people know you, you'll do well from there.

Note: this is all stuff I wish I understood when I was in high school. I just didn't have the discipline back then. FWIW, today I run my own engineering firm, and play with rockets on the side. Still, it'd be nice to play with somebody else's money for my hobby ;-)

Re:Do you really want it? (1)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811314)

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.

Don't overlook state universities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810902)

I realize these are outside your radius, but don't overlook some good state universities like Illinois, Purdue, and Penn State. They have excellent aerospace and mechanical engineering departments. Also, undergrad is pretty typical everywhere. Grad school is where you really need to get picky about the program offerings if an advanced degree is in your plans.

MIT and RPI are fine choices but may be cost prohibitive without grants, loans, or scholarships. A good state school will teach you everything you need to know, if you're serious enough. A loan might not be a good payback for those schools however when you can get the same degree in many other places. I'm not knocking these schools, but you have to be realistic in your expectations. You aren't going to learn anything different at MIT. They all teach the same stuff and many state schools have excellent faculty.

Forget about your end goals (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Expect to get an advanced degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810966)

Expect to get an advanced degree (Masters or PhD) doing research in a related field. I probably wouldn't put too much weight in the name of the school for such a small field - how related and good the specific research/program is will be most helpful. Look for schools that are doing research and have good clubs related to aerospace (microsatellites, robotics, rocketry). Figuring out what schools are partnering with the companies you're interested in could help narrow your choices down too. I work for a tiny advanced robotics research startup and they hired me not for my schools name but for the projects and research I did as a student.

Tute sucks!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810974)

Don't waste your time at RPI. I took classes at five other colleges too and they were *all* better than RPI. The teaching is by rote and produces dull sparkless engineers who need recipes to get anything done. GE used to hire lots of those so it worked, but those days are over.

At any school you're considering, it would pay to find out who teaches the courses you'd actually be taking. Colleges don't teach you, professors do, so there's no point in being impressed by the place's overall reputation if it doesn't affect your own experience. The worst college in the world can be perfect if it happens to have one really awesome professor in your field.

JW / RPI '92

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37810976)

Check out Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester Massachusetts. It has a great engineering program and is generally highly regarded as one of the top schools in the field (right below MIT). They're also a bit different than most other schools, in that they run on a quarter system instead of semesters and have an intensive project system as graduation requirements regardless of major (internships and/or study abroad is almost a requirement), but that's part of what makes their program so good.

Re:Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1)

ffejie (779512) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811272)

WPI is great, but I can't recommend it ahead of RPI. At best they're the same, and the post already seems to prefer RPI due to proximity to home.


G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811036)


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? ;)

Have you considered the Academy (3, Insightful)

SpyPlane (733043) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Consider Georgia Tech (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811082)

I realize this is outside your preferred radius, but if you want to do engineering, I'd consider Georgia Tech. It's very similar to MIT, albeit slightly less well-known. The aerospace program, in particular, is excellent. On top of that, it's one of the cheaper engineering schools for out-of-state students, and is much easier to get into than a place like MIT. Just a thought.

Yeah okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811118)

Upstate New York = 0 jobs
Harsh and remote Californian or Texan desert = when do you want to start? (I'm exaggerating this part)

something to bear in mind.... (1)

shadowofwind (1209890) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811144)

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 more of a synonym for 'conning gullible people out of money without being constrained by the federal GS salary system.' My opinion is if you want to do real space related engineering, go to somewhere like MIT that has JPL connections, and forget about 'private' space industry. Space related engineering doesn't even potentially make sense for private industry beyond launching communications satellites with conventional rockets. A somewhat superficial exception is private companies that do engineering for government space projects, but that has always been how the space program worked. Most of the real engineering was done by employees of companies like Lockheed Martin, with government funding. Although significant contributions were also made by good engineers and scientists at NASA, the role of NASA was largely administrative.

These days most NASA centers do a lot of pretend/junk science, and are very depressing places to work if you have much ambition or integrity. JPL is significantly better than most, and has had many good projects like the Mars rovers and some scientifically useful telescopes. I'm not sure what the prognosis is for the long term though.

Coop/Intern! (1)

paro12 (142901) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811150)

As a ME working in the racing/automotive industry I can tell you that experience is king in the engineering field. This becomes even more true when you are targeting a "small" industry (in this case Private space flight). Get into the best school you can, that as other people have said, gives you opportunities to work for professors doing research in the industry you want to work in. Unless you ABSOLUTELY can't leave home for whatever reason, follow the research.

Most importantly though, from your first day on campus start contacting the companies you want to work for and inquire if they have coop/intern programs. Getting a job out of school in a highly competitive industry such as the one you intend to work for is nearly impossible, but if you have previously worked for them you already have a foot in the door so to speak. Coop is usually preferable over interning because the company will have already invested lots of time in helping develop you as an engineer, and you will have made personal relationships with them.

Hope this helps and good luck.

You need to go west (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811210)

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 internship opportunities. And get an internship as soon as you can and start being around engineers and talking to them. Knowing people and human networking is worth ten times a fancy degree from an ivy league school.

Cornell (1)

ffejie (779512) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811236)

Cornell. It's a no brainier if you can get in and want to stay in Upstate NY.

Do a PHD in the field, then apply for a post-doc (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811242)

See you in 8 years.

Some advice from an outsider (1)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811278)

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 matches your profile of interest. If it is 1000 km away. Go there. To be close to home will only make you go there too often. Try to stand on your own feet. You can visit friends and parents in your holidays.

Ah yes. Don't ask Slashdot for advice. Wrong place. Most of us here do not work for SpaceX or other similar companies. SO how should we know?

And one other thing: Study something you like. Don't look at the open job list, because it is todays list and nobody knows how the list will look like in 5 or 7 years when you got your master degree (don't drop out with a bachelor, please). You are only good in things you like. And you have to be good to go to the interesting places in engineering.

Pick the research project (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811296)

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.

5 Hours? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37811304)

Is that walking driving or flying?

a 5 hour flight go anywhere
a 5 hour drive go where you can and take what you can get
a 5 hour walk go f yourself

For an engineering student you are not thinking this out very much, "like spaceX" really? where are these private companies "like spaceX", I promise you they are not within your bubble

DON'T (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37811358)

No offense, but the launch market is too small to sustain the number of launchers out there. Many launchers exist because of military dual use. (Russia, United States, China).

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