An Aerospace Engineering Degree is the specific area of study for someone who is seeking a job in the development or analysis of endoatmospheric or exoatmospheric vehicles. This subject has two primary subdivisions, and the men and women that work in these two segments have further specialized titles. Individuals focused on the design of craft that operate below the thermosphere are called aeronautic engineers. Meanwhile, persons concentrating on the technological advance of machines that operate beyond the mesosphere are called astronautic engineers.
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The prefixes are what allow this distinction to be made between the two terms. "Aero" is derived from the Greek word for air, and "astro" is based on the stem of the word for star. However, the more general term "aerospace" combines the two concepts into one. It is important that those pursuing an aerospace degree understand the difference. Although the atmosphere does not have a definitive edge like a bubble, there is an altitude at which atmospheric flight becomes unachievable. This imaginary barrier is called the Karman line and exists at 100 kilometers or 62 miles above the earth's surface.
Some aerospace engineering degree programs place equal balance on the two specialties while others require their students to declare a concentration as early as their freshman year of college. The disparity in actual courses will be extremely logical. The aeronautics focus may include courses such as jet propulsion, aircraft design, and attitude dynamics. Conversely, the astronautics curriculum may have classes like spacecraft attitude dynamics, design, and rocket propulsion. Many aerospace engineering departments allow their students to take courses from the other degree specific classes as technical electives.
There are several extracurricular opportunities that can enhance the educational foundation of a student pursing an aerospace engineering degree. Student design competitions allow for the practical application of knowledge, skills, and techniques learned in the classroom and laboratory. The Design Build Fly and AUVSI tournaments are two great examples of these kinds of activities. Student conferences like those organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) also provide an exceptional learning opportunity. Attendees can present their own projects, be exposed to the endeavors at other universities, and form networks that can last well into their professional careers.
An aerospace engineering degree in either aeronautics or astronautics can lead to a highly challenging and fulfilling career. Aerospace engineering degree holders are often hired by privates companies like Boeing or Lockheed Martin while others may seek employment in the public sector with a branch of the armed forces or NASA.