A woman with a young girl smiling and pointing out at the sky, standing beside a telescope dreaming about space careers.
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6 space careers you can have other than astronaut

4 Oct 2018

Do you have a love for space? Did you know there are so many more career options for you than becoming an astronaut?

For anyone who has been fascinated by space, a career among the stars might be all they can think about.

Naturally, the first job you might think about is an astronaut and – while that’s a pretty ambitious dream – it can be done.

However, there are so many more space careers on offer within the industry than becoming an astronaut and flying into space.

In celebration of Space Week, we decided to have a look at the other space careers available to someone who is passionate about space but doesn’t necessarily want to follow the ‘giant leap for mankind’.

Instead of simply listing those space careers, we profiled people working in the space industry and found out specifically what their job entails.

Space lawyer, MHL-Law

Laura Keogh works as a lawyer between Dublin and Munich and aids clients primarily in the areas of space, data protection and contract law.

Keogh became Irish national point of contact for the Space Generation Advisory Council in 2016. Her speciality is working with start-ups and businesses to provide necessary legal help in the space sector.

Keogh is also a co-founder of Inspire Space, a not-for-profit company that aims to gather people and educate them on current events in the Irish space sector. Inspire Space also provides partial funding for Irish students to attend the International Space University.

Software developer, Skytek

Shane Carty combined his education in computer science with his passion for the space industry in his current role as a software developer at Irish company, Skytek.

Skytek has developed advanced systems that provide support services to assist in the execution of procedures onboard the International Space Station. Carty has worked on software that has been sent to space and has been to NASA HQ in Houston.

He also got to travel to Johnson Space Centre to test an application on a mock-up of the International Space Station’s network before it was sent up to space for testing by the astronauts.

Researcher, UCD Space Science Group

For researchers, there is so much to explore when it comes to the space industry. Lána Salmon is an Irish Research Council funded PhD student in the UCD Space Science Group.

Salmon said when she started her PhD, students in University College Dublin (UCD) and Queen’s University Belfast had just proposed a design for Ireland’s first satellite, EIRSAT-1. “Now I’m part of the team trying to get Ireland into space!”

Salmon’s research includes writing code to tell UCD’s Watcher robotic telescope how to look for the optical counterpart to gravitational wave sources. “About half of my time is also spent working on EIRSAT-1, which involves handling the website, Twitter and outreach events. I also work on the Ground Segment, which is like the station from which we will communicate with the satellite.”

Associate professor of space physics

Beyond research, there is also teaching within the space industry. Dr Caitriona Jackman is an associate professor of space physics at the University of Southampton.

Jackman did a physics degree, followed by a PhD in space physics, four and a half years of postdoctoral research, three years of postdoctoral fellowships and, finally, a tenure track position at Southampton.

“My job role includes research, teaching and management. The research side includes a lot of computer programming and analysis of data from spacecraft,” said Jackman. “The teaching side can include lecturing to undergraduates of postgraduates or working with small project groups.”

Researcher, ESA long-haul missions

As I said, there is a huge range of space-related tracks when it comes to researchers. John Noone, for example, who works on ESA long-haul missions bed research at the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology in Dublin City University (DCU).

Through muscle biopsies, Noone looks at the effects of prolonged bed rest on muscle metabolism as well as whether or not countermeasures are having any effect. “Working in the testing centre in the European Space Agency is certainly something I am grateful for,” he said.

Noone has also won the ‘Tell it Straight’ research competition in DCU this year and he was a finalist at Researchfest 2018.

Centre manager, Blackrock Castle Observatory

Clair McSweeney is the centre manager and chief operations officer of the Blackrock Castle Observatory since it opened in 2007.

She fundraises and oversees centre operations, outreach and programming including Space Week Ireland. She led the 10-week Summer of Space education and public engagement programme when Cork Institute of Technology hosted the 2017 Space Studies Programme.

“I am passionate about our natural dark skies and cultural skyscape heritage in Ireland and work closely with Mayo Dark Sky Park, Kerry Dark Sky Reserve, Lough Gur Heritage (Dark Sky candidate), Birr Castle, Dunsink Observatory and other astronomy workers in Ireland to create greater awareness around this area,” said McSweeney.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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