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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Career in Space Science

The final frontier




BY definition "space science is an all-encompassing term that describes all of the various science fields that are concerned with the study of the Universe, generally also meaning 'excluding the Earth' and 'outside of the Earth's atmosphere'." 


Space science is an amalgamation of various disciplines like physics, mechanical engineering, electronics engineering, materials science, chemistry, biology, medicine, psychology, computer science and other fields of scientific knowledge. 
   The broad areas of specialisation include astrophysics, galactic science, stellar science, non-Earth planetary science, biology of other planets, astronautics/space travel, space colonisation and space defence. 


"The increasing effort and resources being invested in space research in India and other countries ensures that employment potential is increasing at an exponential rate. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), currently the world's number four ranked space organisation, is very active and India ranks among the top three countries in terms of spending on space research as a percentage of their national GDP," says Shekhar Niyogi, education and career consultant, Education Unlimited Inc. Currently, space science is facing a shortage of talented youngsters as they are opting for better paying jobs. Being in space is not the only job of a space scientist, but it also involves work in the areas of meteorological services, environmental monitoring, gathering, analysing various astronomical data etc. A number of qualified engineers and technicians are required in the various research and space centres in India. Depending upon an individual's capabilities and performance, one can rise to the level of project managers, division heads, project directors, group directors, deputy directors and eventually directors. 


"During the research years, one can receive a monthly stipend ranging from Rs 8,000-Rs 9,000, besides other grants and facilities. After completing research, employment opportunities with different institutes increase. Various government bodies also employ astronomers as scientists, who are given high salaries with other perks and allowances. A beginner in the field of space sciences may be inducted as a researcher into an existing team already working on a project. With some years of research experience, one can even apply to NASA, or any other international space programme for openings," informs Swati Salunkhe, a noted career counsellor. 


ISRO recruits MSc/BE/ME or PhD degree holders for their various fields of work. Some highly relevant disciplines for scientists/engineers are aeronautical engineering, atmospheric sciences, chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer, control systems, electrical engineering, electrooptics, electronics, material science, mechanical engineering, metallurgy engineering, remote sensing, structure engineering and telecommunication. 
   Job opportunities are also available for those who possess industrial training, certificate in various trades/skills such as electronics instrumentations, computer electronics and mechanical trades. 


To provide high quality undergraduate and postgraduate education and research programmes in the field of space science and technology, Department of Space, Govt. of India has set up the Institute of Space Science and Technology in 2007. This institute offers undergraduate BTech programme in avionics (50 seats), aerospace engineering (40 seats) and a five year integrated masters in applied sciences (30 seats). 
   "Applied sciences encompass various branches of space science like astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric science, remote sensing, planetary science, etc and we have also integrated basic engineering with this course," says B M Suresh, director, IIST. Candidates are short-listed on the basis of their IIT JEE scores, followed by personal counselling. All students are given access to the ISRO labs from day one. Students who successfully complete the academic programme with a minimum first class are absorbed as scientist/engineer SC in ISRO with a service condition of five years. "The interest level is very high among students but at the same time the stigma attached to the science subjects that it seldom guarantees a job prevails here as well. But, it is only a myth. Unlike other sciences, here PhD is not mandatory to get a decent job," adds Suresh. Apart from the specialised courses offered by ISRO, a number of foreign universities also offer courses in various disciplines of space science." At the undergraduate level students need the SAT and TOEFL for admissions to US universities and GRE and the TOEFL at the graduate level. The course fee is around $30,000 per year," informs Karan Gupta, foreign education counsellor. 


• Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram 

• California Institute of Technology 

• UCLA IGPP, University of California 

• University of Colorado 

• American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 

• University of Arizona Stanford University 





   Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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