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The Question

(Submitted June 22, 1997)

I am 13 years old and I have long been interested in space and astronomy. I like to construct all kinds of things. I have set a high goal for myself and I was hoping you would have some suggestions on what colleges to attend. I would like to be a robotics engineer for NASA and design space probes. Well, if you have any suggestions about what to do please let me know.

The Answer

It is great that you are interested in becoming an engineer and working on robotics for space. Most of us here at Ask an Astrophysicist are physicists or astronomers, so we don't have experience with exactly the things you are interested in. However, we do work for NASA in one form or another, and many of the courses we took in college were the same as those taken by engineers, so we know something about the subject. I would separate the answer into the following parts:

(i) It is generally true that 'better' (i.e. more competitive) colleges provide better educations and job opportunities for their graduates. However, this is certainly not always true. State universities, for example, often provide as good educations as private universities. Some names of private universities which are known for good engineering programs are MIT and Cal Tech. Some of these will have their own laboratories which may be working with NASA on the kind of engineering applications you are interested in; you may be able to get work experience while you are still in school.

(ii) Once you are in college there are summer school programs which can give you an overview of the kind of work going on inside NASA. Our laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, operates one of these, and I am sure that there are others at other NASA centers. You can get information by writing to Ms. Maybelline Burrell, Code 100, NASA/GSFC, Greenbelt, MD 20771.

(iii) Finally, I would caution against deciding on your career choice too early. There are many interesting things to do, and by keeping your mind somewhat open you may happen onto something wonderful and unexpected.

I hope this helps.

Tim Kallman
for the Ask an Astrophysicist team

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