Can I work at NASA?
One of the questions that get asked a lot via email here at KnowledgeOrb is “How can I get a job at NASA?” I decided to write some posts about that topic to help those of you out there who have that desire. If your a High School student, in college, graduated and working somewhere already, or have nothing more than a High School diploma it does not matter. It is possible to work at NASA if you have the desire. I used the word desire carefully as that is what you need more than anything else. Your dream of working at NASA can indeed come true. To be clear, this site is not affiliated with NASA, just a supporter of it. These are my own personal opinions and observations and in no way are meant to make you think I speak for NASA.
First my story, so you know I am just really a regular person like you. I am not a NASA government employee but a contractor for one of the larger companies affiliated with NASA. I was an engineer, who moved up the ranks and became a mid to high level manager. I have hired more people than I can count and have had a few hundred under me at any one time. I speak from experience and want to help anyone who has dreamed of working at NASA. I was just like you.
My desire started at a very young age. I remember as a child my parents letting me stay up late to watch man land on the Moon. I was the ripe old age of 7 at the time. My father was not in the technical field at all but we moved to Florida for his non-NASA related work, close enough to the Cape to see launches. I remember the first time we went to visit Kennedy and I saw the vehicle assembly building, the Saturn 5 majestically sitting on the launch pad getting ready to go to the Moon. The feeling of excitement, the people there waiting to watch what we all knew was history in the making. It was electric. As I was on the bus tour of Kennedy I saw men and women parking their cars and walking into work in the Vehicle Assembly Building. I must have been 8 or 9 and I remember thinking those were the luckiest people on Earth. I would never be able to do that, it was such a lofty goal, but I both admired and envied them.
As I matured I got into the computer industry but never forgot my time watching the Saturn V launches, then the Space Shuttle launches, the anticipation of waiting for Hubble to launch and then the disappointment of the Challenger incident. I never lost the desire to work in the space program but had no real idea how to do it or connections to make it a reality. I lived in the north eastern U.S. not near any NASA center. but there were NASA contractors nearby who built Satellites for NASA. Not expecting anything to really happen I applied to these companies, and I applied, and I interviewed, and I applied, and I interviewed, and I applied, and I applied, and finally, after several years I landed a job as a technician in the construction of a NASA satellite.
I mentioned desire before. I was already an Engineer by that time and I took a 25% pay cut and a demotion to work on this NASA program. I did this just to get my foot in the door and prove what I could do, with the hope I could recover the decrease in pay. A hard decision to make when you have children and a mortgage. I tell you this to let you know if you have the desire you can make it happen. It may not be easy but it can be done. Also you need to know while I like to think I am a confident person I was frankly scared to death. I would be working with people at NASA, would I be able to keep up, they were all so smart, they had the right stuff, did I?
Well a few decades later and I can say I more than made up for the temporary decrease in pay and have proudly played a part in several NASA missions. I went from having a job outside of NASA that was just a job, to having a job I loved and looked forward to every day I went there. If you love your work, then you don’t have a job. I know I am one of the lucky few who managed to accomplish that. It is not all glamour and made for TV type work days. Some days everything goes wrong, but then there are the other days. There are still plenty of people who still have the drive and desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves and improve mankind’s understanding of the universe and himself. I have met many of them working for NASA and that is what makes it all worth while. I am not an overly religious person but I met a man at NASA who was also a preacher. We were working on an Earth Observation satellite at the time, part of the Mission to Planet Earth. As we were in the clean room, looking at the satellite we were about to launch he told me something. He said this was not just good work, it was God’s work. At some level I think he was right. The work NASA does is for all mankind, to improve the human condition, to take care of our planet, to understand who we are. If that is not God’s work I don’t know what is.
If you have that kind of motivation and desire then make it happen. NASA needs good people. When they find them I have found that they recognize that and will show their appreciation. Your reward is the work, the people you meet, knowing you have played a part in something good and important.
In the next article I will outline some of the steps you can take to secure your place. NASA needs all kinds of people, for all kinds of jobs. No matter what your skills there could be a place for you there if you have the motivation.
Other Parts of this Series