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What is Astronautical Engineering?

Jessica Ellis
By
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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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.

PracticalAdultInsights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for PracticalAdultInsights. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By hamje32 — On Sep 23, 2011

@Charred - You mentioned science fiction. I watch a lot of television shows and wonder how much of that stuff on TV could be accomplished by our current understanding of astronautics engineering.

I remember someone once telling me that the spaceship “Enterprise” in Star Trek wasn’t considered flight worthy! By modern standards, that is, such a ship wouldn’t fly; and of course the whole warp drive thing bends credulity a little bit.

Still, I believe that there is much more that we need to learn, and it won’t happen unless we keep the space program alive.

By Charred — On Sep 22, 2011

I do think the space program will pick up again in the very near future. It’s just a matter of what form and shape it will take.

I like the idea of building a base on the moon, and then shuttling things back and forth using a space elevator. That may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but those ideas have already been floated back and forth, so apparently there is some real science to it.

Regardless, I hope that we do some moon exploration of some kind, either for mining or establishing a home away from home. I’d hate to think that the best days for moon exploration were in our past, decades ago when the space program was much less advanced than it is now.

By NathanG — On Sep 22, 2011

I love the aeronautical and astronautical engineering specialties. We have a well known aeronautical engineering school near where we live as well as a space museum.

My only fear is that this discipline will be scaled back some since NASA retired the Space Shuttle program. It also appears that space exploration as a whole has been somewhat scaled back.

I don’t expect that a manned mission to Mars will take place anytime soon, although I think it would be a great advance in our understanding of space science. I would even settle for a few more Mars rover type explorations as well.

By indemnifyme — On Sep 21, 2011

@Azuza - It would be pretty cool to be able to say that you're a rocket scientists. Much cooler than working in insurance like I do, that's for sure!

I'm actually really envious of astronautical engineers. I think space travel is so interesting, but I just don't have the genius brain that is necessary to work in this field. That doesn't stop me from reading all the Steven Hawking I can get my hands on though!

By Azuza — On Sep 20, 2011

First of all, if I were an astronautical engineer, I would never say "I'm an astronautical engineer." If people asked me what I did for a living I would say, "I'm a rocket scientist!" It just sounds so much cooler.

Second of all, I think this country really need to step up our game as far as astronautical engineering. As the article says, our sun will eventually go supernova, making the earth uninhabitable. If the human race is still alive at this time, we will need to have mastered space travel so we can go off and colonize other planets.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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