SpaceX launch: private industry inspires new generation of rocketeers (+video)

December 31, 2014 – 10:47 am

If SpaceX's destination – the International Space Station in “ho hum” low-Earth orbit is certain to be uninspiring to a new generation of would-be rocketeers, someone forgot to tell many of those rocketeers-in-training.

The prospect of working for private companies launching cargo to the space station and, eventually, humans into space has emerged as an alluring option for a new generation of aerospace-engineering students, some educators say.

The evidence is anecdotal; no formal surveys have appeared to validate the trends these educators say they see.

And while graduates with advanced degrees are peppering long-established giants such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin, as well as NASA, with resumes, so-called New Space firms that have emerged during the past 10 to 20 years – SpaceX, among them – hold a special attraction.

“It used to be that the hottest job you could get was at NASA, ” says Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and associate dean for entrepreneurship. “Ten years ago, if someone got a JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] job, they never rejected it, ” even if the student had received a more-lucrative offer from one of the aerospace giants.

Now, he says, when students with newly minted graduate degrees consider offers from NASA and private industry, “New Space wins hands down, ” even though the salaries tend to be lower that those the big corporations or NASA pay.

Elsewhere, students graduating with advanced aerospace engineering degrees may spread themselves a bit more evenly. In an economy still struggling to rise from the so-called Great Recession, getting a foothold in one's chosen field, even if the employer is not a first choice, beats the alternative.

Still, NASA's new direction – contracting with commercial launch providers to carry cargo and people to destinations in low-Earth orbit while focusing on human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit – is putting extra spring in students' steps.

“What we're looking at here is not Apollo 2.0, it's a whole new future in spaceflight, ” says Robert Braun, professor of space technology at Georgia Tech and former chief technologist at NASA. “And that is something that I can tell you reverberates with a lot of energy and excitement on college campuses across the country.”


Source: www.csmonitor.com

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