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SpaceX launch: private industry inspires new generation of rocketeers (+video)

SpaceX launch a reminder that NASA isn't the only game in town anymore. Aspiring engineers, rocket designers, space geeks look to 'New Space' companies to boldly go where only governments used to go.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off
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 If SpaceX's destination – the International Space Station in “ho hum” low-Earth orbit is certain to be uninspiring to a new generation of would-be rocketeers, someone forgot to tell many of those rocketeers-in-training.

The prospect of working for private companies launching cargo to the space station and, eventually, humans into space has emerged as an alluring option for a new generation of aerospace-engineering students, some educators say.

The evidence is anecdotal; no formal surveys have appeared to validate the trends these educators say they see.

And while graduates with advanced degrees are peppering long-established giants such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin, as well as NASA, with resumes, so-called New Space firms that have emerged during the past 10 to 20 years – SpaceX, among them – hold a special attraction.

“It used to be that the hottest job you could get was at NASA,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and associate dean for entrepreneurship. “Ten years ago, if someone got a JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] job, they never rejected it,” even if the student had received a more-lucrative offer from one of the aerospace giants.

Now, he says, when students with newly minted graduate degrees consider offers from NASA and private industry, “New Space wins hands down,” even though the salaries tend to be lower that those the big corporations or NASA pay.


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