Astronautical engineering is a branch of practical science that deals with the design, building and theories of spacecraft. Often referred to as rocket science, astronautical engineering is an incredibly complex field of the aerospace industry that requires extensive training and a deep understanding of physics, engineering, and outer space. For all its complexity, modern astronautical engineering is a relatively young field, dating back to the first spacecraft flights of the 20th century.
Isaac Newton, the great scientist of the 17th century, first theorized the mathematics required for space flight. Fiction writers such as Jules Verne popularized and romanticized the idea of spaceflight, keeping the dream of sailing to the stars firmly alive in human minds. Not until the technology caught up with the imagination in the 20th century, however, did the field become a practical discipline. With the development of space programs and the great mid-century space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, astronautical engineering became a forefront of scientific discovery and engineering design.
There are many different areas of astronautical study, each relating to the practice of space flight. Propulsion deals with the engine systems of spacecraft, including launch capabilities. Astrodynamics focuses on understanding trajectory and orbital patterns. Spacecraft design involves the understanding, engineering and implementation of a spacecraft's body and systems. In order to build usable spacecraft, experts from each discipline must work together closely to design and build a comprehensive vehicle that can survive the punishing environment of space.
Many jobs in the astronautical engineering world require graduate degrees in the field; candidates usually have either a master's degree or a PhD with an emphasis in their area of interest. Some technical jobs are available to those with bachelor's degrees in engineering as well. Job opportunities for astronautical engineers can be either in the public or private sectors; while some countries have active space programs that employ engineers, many work for private contractors that build rockets, missiles, and other spacecraft.
Many scientists, including the revered Steven Hawking, believe that the future of the human race depends primarily on the ability to improve space travel and find other habitable worlds. Since the Sun is fated to eventually run out of energy, the improvement of aeronautic travel may be the key to long term survival in the universe. Astronautical engineers play a major part in this great space race, with every small technological step bring the human race potentially closer to a long survival.