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Monday Mentoring: Debunking Rocket Science Myths
Aerospace Engineering has had one of the fastest growths. It's not because we travel at supersonic and hypersonics speeds. But, because from the first flight (Wright Brothers) in 1903 to reaching the moon (Apollo 11) in 1969, it only took 66 years and all this while no semiconductors (Transistors) were built until 1947. Undoubtedly, the growth slowed down in the last fifty years. Aerospace engineering still fascinates and inspires thousands of students to look for the stars. Many stereotypes get associated with this branch of engineering. I'll try to debunk many of the rocket science myths.
I'll use the term aerospace for aerospace engineering throughout this article.
"It is Rocket Science, hence very tough."
Aerospace is many times colloquially termed as "Rocket Science". The term Rocket Science is used in both written and audiovisual media to convey extremely difficult scenarios or tasks. Though aerospace engineers are cool enough to garner attention, the field itself is not much different from other branches of engineering. It uses the basic concepts of physics and applies a lot of mathematics to make aeroplanes, rockets, and satellites. I know a few of you may get intimidated by my use of "a lot of maths", but that is true of all engineering branches.
Rocket science is cool and comfortable enough if you are good with mathematics.
"You won't get jobs, take CS, the packages are very high."
Many interested candidates would receive advice not to take aerospace because of job scarcity in the core sector and the lack of high-paid salaries. First of all, these are two separate issues, let us tackle them one by one.
Yes, there indeed are very few core aerospace jobs around the world. With the industry run by the government for more than 60 years, all significant recruiters are government-run organisations. In India, with Make in India and Startup India, private players are slowly coming in. Therefore, the jobs within the private sector would increase. For ISRO, DRDO, HAL, and NAL, the jobs are limited. Generally, the vacancies are filled through nation-wide tests where the government is still to upgrade to aerospace based vacancy instead of mechanical or electrical. Globally though both private and public sectors exist, the job profiles are limited to the citizens only. Also, in general, the number of jobs is limited: for every job.
You can overcome this barrier of less jobs. :P Even though not easy, generally aerospace engineers become passionate and patient in the four to six years of study.
High-paid salaries in computer science and electrical are very few. The average of CS-Elec may be a little higher at around 12-15 lakhs per annum but Aero-Mech core jobs are also at 8-11 lakhs per annum only. The dream of getting a high-paying job gets fulfilled for the only maximum of 2-5% people in a batch. (Rough statistics)
There are some other aspects as well. Engineering requires you to choose even before knowing what you are getting into. Picking CS just because it pays well, might not work out for you in the long run.
Job scarcity? Correct but passion, patience and friendships take you there. High-paid jobs, only 2% such jobs.
"You are interested in stars, take Aerospace."
In my three years as an Aerospace senior (the second year doesn't count, sorry sophomores, but you don't know much), I have come across many students mixing the two branches: Aerospace and Astrophysics.
Astrophysics is a branch of space science that applies the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the birth, life and death of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in the universe. It has two sibling sciences, astronomy and cosmology, and the lines between them blur.
As per space.com
Aerospace engineering is the primary field of engineering concerned with the development of aircraft and spacecraft. It has two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering.
According to Wikipedia
Note, astrophysics is space science while aerospace deals with designing and making the technology to assist astrophysicists. Looking at the night sky and wondering about how stars came into existence: astrophysics. Looking at the night sky and wondering how to get to the moon: Aerospace. Though aerospace deals with the technology aspect, it is not possible without the help of physicists. To make an object as complex as satellite, many people come together.
How the stars formed? Astrophysics. How to reach stars? Aerospace.
"Aerospace is a restricted branch, take mechanical you'll still learn everything."
Yes, aerospace is a restricted branch while mechanical is a broader one. However, that doesn't imply that aerospace can be studied in the mechanical curriculum. To understand this better, it'll take a full post. I'll try to describe it a little here. First, let me inform you about the five sub-divisions of aerospace engineering.
Structures: This may be the closest subdivision to mechanical. The only caveat here is the weight of the vehicle. Aerospace applications require light-weight objects. Also, mechanisms have been known to fail a lot in space.
Propulsion: Deals with rocket engines and hypersonic flows while in mechanical very different car engines are studied.
Aerodynamics: Deals with the flow of fluids around aeroplane and helicopters. It also deals with the re-entry of space vehicles. Two fundamental differences with Fluid Mechanics (same underlying physics) taught in Mechanical Engineering: Aerodynamics majorly deals with the external flow and velocities are much higher.
Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC): This sub-division helps in guiding and controlling the position and orientation of aircraft and spacecraft. Though the underlying mathematics is the same, the application of aerodynamic, elastic, and propulsive forces on the aerospace vehicles makes it essential to be studied under aerospace.
Systems Engineering: As understood, aerospace engineering while having the same underlying physics and maths as mechanical become very different due to its challenging applications. Here comes, the field of systems engineering, which makes sure the four of the above divisions work together. It also deals with operations and mission design, such as Airport schedule.
Another closely related sub-division is Avionics, but it is usually not studied under aerospace which is good for the Electrical Engineers who want to get into Aerospace.
"Mechanical and Aerospace are different branches due to different applications. Choose based on curriculums available of the websites of the universities."
"I want to become an astronaut. Hence I am taking aerospace."
I once read an answer by a NASA astronaut on Quora, that Astronaut is a second profession. There is no need to be an aerospace engineer to become an astronaut. Astronauts are all kinds of people, ranging from geologists to medical practitioners. You have to excel in your first job with a knack of doing adventurous stuff (also excellent physical and mental health) to get selected as an astronaut.
"Study and excel in the field you are interested in. Once, you are on top, apply for the astronaut programme."
I hope a lot of your opinions changed after reading this article and you got much more informed. I'll urge you let me know about other topics and questions you have related to aerospace engineering though the following form or you can leave a comment. I'll make sure to cover them in next few Monday Mentoring posts.