What Do Aerospace Engineers Do? Are you looking for a challenging and innovative career path where you can have a tremendous impact by enabling people to travel to the farthest reaches of the Earth and beyond?

Do you dream about developing cutting-edge aerospace designs for aircraft and/or spacecraft that deliver optimum performance and highest safety?

When people comment, “You’d have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out,” would you like to be able to say, “Actually, I am!”

The field of aerospace engineering offers unique opportunities to make a real difference by applying your knowledge of the overlapping branches of aeronautical (aircraft) engineering and astronautical (spacecraft) engineering.

Aerospace engineers

  • Create machines-from airplanes that weigh over a half a million pounds to spacecraft that travel over 17,000 miles an hour.
  • Design aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and supervise the manufacture of these products.
  • Develop acceptance criteria for design methods, quality standards, sustainment after delivery, and completion dates.
  • Assess proposals for projects to determine if they are technically and financially feasible.
  • Evaluate designs to see that the products meet engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental challenges.
  • Inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to identify sources of problems and possible solutions.

Did you know?

  • Aerospace engineers who work with aircraft are called aeronautical engineers, and those working specifically with spacecraft are astronautical engineers.

Famous Aerospace Engineers

  • Yvonne Brill – Canadian-American propulsion engineer best known for her development of rocket and jet propulsion technologies; involved in a variety of national space programs in the United States, including NASA and the International Maritime Satellite Organization
  • Kalpana Chawla – first Indian-American astronaut and first Indian woman in space; one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
  • Elon Musk – founder of SpaceX, cofounder of Tesla Motors, PayPal, Inc., and Zip2
  • Wernher Von Braun – leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the United States
  • Robert H. Goddard – created and built the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket
  • Igor Sikorsky – Russian American pioneer of both helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft
  • Howard Head – invented laminate skis and the oversized tennis racket

Areas of Employment

  • Aerospace products and parts industry
  • Engineering services
  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
  • National defense
  • Motor vehicles manufacturing industry
  • Consulting firms
  • Government institutions including:
    • Regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration
    • Science and exploration, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • Safety investigation, such as the National Transportation Safety Board
    • National laboratories
    • Military service, including Air Force, Navy, and Army

Career Guidance Suggestions for Pre-University Students

Coursework to consider
  • Pre-algebra
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Engineering fundamentals
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Trigonometry
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Robotics
  • Programming
  • Computer-aided design
  • Data analysis
  • Principles of design
  • Circuits
  • Mechanics
  • Aerodynamics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Rocket propulsion
  • Spacecraft technology
Suggested extracurricular activities
  • Competitions
  • Summer programs
  • Afterschool programs
  • Clubs
  • Internships
  • Online puzzles and games
  • Online courses
  • Maker Faires
  • Design projects
Local programs offered by
  • Science centers and museums
  • Professional societies like IEEE
  • Universities
Important Skills
  • Analytical skills: identify design elements that may not meet requirements and then formulate alternatives to improve the performance of those elements.
  • Business skills: meet federal government standards, requiring knowledge of standard business practices, as well as knowledge of commercial law.
  • Critical thinking skills: translate a set of issues into requirements and figure out why a particular design does not work.
  • Math skills: apply principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
  • Problem-solving skills: use education and experience to upgrade designs and troubleshoot problems when meeting new demands for aircraft, such as increased fuel efficiency or improved safety.
  • Writing skills: write papers that explain designs clearly and create documentation for future reference. 

Links and Resources