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10 Best Degrees for Astronauts What to study if you want to be an astronaut

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Astronauts have incredibly interesting and rewarding careers. Going into space is something that only a tiny fraction of humans get to do, so the field is extremely competitive and desirable. If you want to be an astronaut, you must make your higher education a priority.

Becoming an astronaut requires years of training and experience, and earning a bachelor’s degree is only the first step. Astronauts need to receive a master’s degree in a relevant STEM field, complete two years of related professional work, and pass a physical exam. Many aspiring astronauts spend years and years pursuing the field, so choosing the right bachelor’s degree is essential for success. Your undergraduate education can pave the way for your future opportunities, especially if you’re interested in such a competitive field.

Fortunately, there are many undergraduate majors that can lay the groundwork for your career as an astronaut. Most astronauts complete a STEM bachelor’s degree, but you have plenty of options within that category. Here are 10 of the best college majors for aspiring astronauts.

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1. Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is one of the most relevant college majors for astronauts. It’s a challenging program, but it equips you with so many of the skills needed for your career goals. Over the course of your electrical engineering degree, you’ll learn how to design, develop, and maintain electrical equipment.

Degree Overview

No two colleges offer exactly the same courses, but electrical engineering programs generally focus heavily on calculus and physics. Alongside some other courses, these topics lay the groundwork for the complex systems you’ll work with as an electrical engineer. You can also expect to take some classes specific to electronics and electrical engineering, and you may be required to take a course on computer science.

Electrical engineering is a hands-on profession, so most colleges require a lab component for their engineering students. Your labs are an opportunity to put the skills you’re learning about to the test, which will help you feel more confident after you graduate. Some programs also require a research component or a senior project.

How Electrical Engineering Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Electrical engineers understand how to build and repair electrical systems, and this includes the equipment used on space shuttles. A large percentage of astronauts have a background in electrical engineering because the education makes you so knowledgeable about technology.

Not only is the topic of electrical engineering highly relevant for astronauts, but engineers have excellent problem-solving skills that are necessary if you want to become an astronaut. Many people who are drawn to electrical engineering are naturally observant, logical, and resourceful, and the degree program will continue to strengthen those skills.

2. Mechanical Engineering

Just like electrical engineering, a mechanical engineering degree provides a wealth of information that can benefit you as an aspiring astronaut. While electrical engineers are experts on the electronic and technological aspects of engineering, mechanical engineers focus on the physical components of complex systems.

Degree Overview

Mechanical engineering students take a variety of math and science courses, including calculus, physics, chemistry, and materials sciences. Every program differs slightly, but a mechanical engineering degree is typically a very rigorous course of study. However, the knowledge gained from the degree can lead you down many successful career paths.

How Mechanical Engineering Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Mechanical engineers are talented problem solvers, so they play a key role during space missions. Your mechanical engineering degree can equip you to work with the intricate technology on a shuttle. You can collaborate with other engineers and experts from other fields to solve problems and create the most innovative solutions.

3. Biology

Biology is one of the most popular undergraduate science majors because it provides such a valuable foundation for graduate studies. Many of the other science majors focus on the study of the earth or matter, but biology is the study of life. If you’re most interested in the science behind animals, plants, and human beings, biology could be a great major for you.

Degree Overview

Biology is the study of living organisms, but to become a knowledgeable biologist, you need a strong overall foundation in the sciences. Most undergraduate programs require chemistry, physics, and math courses in addition to the core biology classes. However, the majority of your coursework will cover topics like ecology, genetics, biochemistry, or human anatomy.

Some colleges only offer one biology major, and others offer more specialized majors. For example, you might have the option to concentrate on biotechnology, microbiology, or molecular biology. Any of these fields can be helpful on your path to becoming an astronaut, so you should choose the option that you find the most interesting.

How Biology Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Students sometimes think that biology isn’t a relevant major to become an astronaut because the topic is limited to life on Earth. The more we travel into space, though, the more necessary it is for experts to understand how life can function outside of our atmosphere. Biologists offer their expertise on the human body, which is instrumental for space travel. Their knowledge of plants and animals could influence future space missions, too, as humans travel farther and plan to expand their reach in the solar system.

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4. Physics

Physics is a broad field, but it involves the study of matter and energy. Physicists aim to understand how the world is structured and how everything moves around in time and space. Astronauts need an extensive understanding of these ideas to prepare for and complete space missions, so physicists are valuable members of NASA’s team.

Degree Overview

Physics is a highly complex field, so an undergraduate degree doesn’t teach you every single thing you may need to know to become an astronaut. Many undergraduate physics majors go on to specialize in highly technical topics as graduate students. As an aspiring astronaut, a master’s degree in astrophysics could be especially useful.

The first year or two of a bachelor’s degree in physics usually includes calculus, chemistry, and some general physics classes. Then, students begin taking courses on special topics in physics, such as mechanics, thermodynamics or quantum physics. Some programs are very flexible and allow students to choose physics courses that are of interest to them, and some provide a more rigid course schedule.

How Physics Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

A physics degree gives you the perfect combination of theoretical and technical information to become an astronaut. Not only do you learn about the broad theories behind the function of the universe, but you learn specific, practical skills that are useful for planning space missions. An undergraduate major in physics also opens many doors for your graduate education. Physics majors can go on to study a specialized physics topic, or they could study chemistry, engineering, or other STEM fields at the graduate level.

5. Atmospheric Science

Atmospheric science is the study of the atmosphere, weather, climate, and other environmental topics. This degree can lead you to a number of important career paths, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30 percent of atmospheric scientists work for the federal government. This degree can be a great step toward becoming an astronaut because it equips you to study and understand weather conditions in space.

Degree Overview

Like other science degrees, an atmospheric science program usually begins with general mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology courses. This provides the foundational knowledge you need to dive deep into the environmental sciences. The last couple years of the program usually focus on climate science, atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology.

How Atmospheric Science Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

If you’re passionate about becoming an astronaut but find yourself drawn more toward environmental science than toward math or physics, atmospheric science may be the best major for you. Understanding the atmosphere is critical for astronauts. As an atmospheric scientist, you can create weather forecasts for space, which will influence space missions. Researchers in this field can also offer their perspective on how life can function outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

Most atmospheric science programs involve a combination of classroom learning and hands-on learning. The opportunity to attend labs and complete research projects or internships will be instrumental in your future career. You’ll gain real-world experience that can help you understand what it’s like to work as a scientist for NASA or another organization, which makes you a more competitive candidate for the job.

6. Astronomy

Astronomy is an ideal undergraduate major for students who are fascinated by space. Even if you do not go on to become an astronaut, there are many interesting and lucrative career paths for astronomers. The majority of astronomers work in higher education or in research and development, and the BLS predicts an 8 percent job growth in the next 10 years.

Degree Overview

Astronomy relies heavily on physics and mathematics, so it’s a good choice for students who are good with numbers. During your degree program, you’ll learn about the origins of space and time as well as the evolution of the universe. Some schools offer separate degrees in astronomy and astrophysics, and some offer a combined degree in the two subjects. If you’re interested in becoming an astronaut, an astrophysics degree could be especially useful.

How Astronomy Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Astronomy is one of the more obvious degree choices for prospective astronauts. If you want to go into space, studying space is the best way to reach that goal. A bachelor’s degree in astronomy gives you a strong understanding of space and space travel, and you can build upon that knowledge in your graduate program and in your professional work. Although astronaut jobs are extremely competitive, NASA does hire quite a few astronomers to fulfill other research and development roles. Earning a graduate degree in astronomy could be your strategy to get your foot in the door and make connections before applying to be an astronaut.

7. Mathematics

Most of the degree programs for astronauts heavily involve mathematics. If math is your passion, you can select it as your undergraduate major. While a bachelor’s in mathematics isn’t enough on its own to become an astronaut, it does prepare you for a graduate degree in physics, astronomy, or another related subject.

Degree Overview

A mathematics degree involves a variety of in-depth math courses. You can expect to take statistics, calculus, linear algebra, and several other classes. The course requirements for a bachelor’s in mathematics vary significantly between schools, but most programs offer a good deal of flexibility. After you fulfill the core coursework for the degree, you’ll probably be able to choose elective math classes on the specific topics you enjoy. This is an especially good choice of major if you want the freedom to tailor your coursework based on your specific interests.

How Mathematics Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Physics, astronomy, and other STEM subjects are built on a foundation of mathematics. Math is the language of the universe, and an undergraduate degree in mathematics lays the groundwork for you to become a knowledgeable and versatile professional. Your math background will come in handy in your graduate program and in your work as an aspiring astronaut.

Although many people think that math is only about rules and structure, the subject actually involves a lot of logical reasoning. A math degree will strengthen your logic and critical thinking, which can make you an effective problem solver. This is one of the most valuable characteristics for astronauts as innovation is such an important part of the job.

8. Geology

If you’re interested in earth sciences, geology can be a valuable undergraduate degree. Harrison Schmitt, one of 12 people to walk on the moon, is a geologist. While some other programs focus on the mathematics and physics behind space travel, a geology background helps you understand the physical structure of the earth and of other planets and satellites. However, most geology degree programs do require a variety of science courses, so you will still gain a foundational knowledge of other STEM topics.

Degree Overview

A geology degree usually begins with some courses on physics, chemistry, and the foundations of geology. Then, you begin to take more specific courses on geological sciences. Your school may allow students to concentrate on a subtopic within geology, such as climate or conservation, or they may require all students to follow the same track.

Geology programs usually involve lab or field experiences, so it’s a rewarding major if you’re a hands-on learner. You may have to complete a research project or internship before earning your degree, which is an excellent way to ease into a career or a graduate program.

How Geology Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Geologists are experts on matter, and those who specialize in space exploration are dedicated to understanding the similarities and differences between Earth and other planets. As humanity gets closer and closer to setting foot on Mars, geologists will play an especially key role in space exploration. Many geologists who work for NASA are currently working to understand the tectonics, cratering, and climate of Mars, and this work is integral for future missions.

9. Aeronautics

Some astronauts are attracted to the career out of the desire to understand the science of space. Others are fascinated by the idea of space travel itself. If you find yourself drawn to the mechanics of flying in space, an aeronautics degree may be of particular interest to you.

Degree Overview

Aeronautics is closely linked to physics, so you should expect to take a number of physics and mathematics courses during your bachelor’s degree. As an aeronautics student, you’ll learn about the science behind aircraft travel and aerodynamics. Aeronautics is more than a theoretical program, though. In addition to learning about the scientific background of air and space travel, you’ll also learn how to design, develop, and test aircraft.

How Aeronautics Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

Aviation experts are an essential part of NASA’s team. To become an astronaut, you either need two years of relevant professional experience or 1,000 hours of experience as a pilot on a jet aircraft. A degree in aeronautics can be a stepping stone to a career as a pilot, and pilots have a strong competitive edge when applying for an astronaut position.

10. Computer Science

The technology used on space missions is programmed and maintained by experienced computer scientists. With a computer science degree, you gain the technological expertise needed to work on these systems. Steven Swanson, an esteemed astronaut, holds a doctorate in computer science.

Degree Overview

If the technological aspects of STEM are your strength, you’ll probably find a computer science degree to be fascinating. A typical bachelor’s in computer science begins with some basic computing courses. Then, you’ll likely take courses on data structures, software engineering, discrete mathematics, cybersecurity, and other core subjects.

How Computer Science Prepares You to Be an Astronaut

The technology on Earth and in space needs to be carefully designed and properly maintained for successful missions, and computer scientists make this possible. If you earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in computer science and get enough professional experience, you can bring your expertise to NASA.

Computer scientists are also usually at the forefront of new technology, which is a great quality for astronauts to have. Space travel is new and exciting, and the experts are always looking for new innovations. A background in tech prepares you to work with cutting-edge technology and to adapt your work to meet the ever-changing needs of the industry.

Becoming an astronaut is a difficult but exciting career path for individuals who are drawn to math, physics, engineering, and other STEM topics. These college majors are not easy, but working hard through your bachelor’s degree will help you reach your career goals. Try to choose the degree program that you find the most interesting as this will help you stay motivated from beginning to end. After earning your STEM degree, you can move on to the next steps in your astronaut training.

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