Going to space might not be too far off for some, thanks to a renewed commitment by NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and private companies like SpaceX launching rockets seemingly every week.
But astronauts soon won’t be the only ones going to space. Space tourism is growing into a major market. And with the likes of Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin competing in a space race, the stars might not be so out of reach.
Here’s a list of jobs that may sound like science fiction now, but aren’t far off from becoming mainstream.
A Few Good Aliens
You won’t get to mediate legal disputes in space, but the job of space lawyer is still open to all space buffs or those interested in advising the government or private companies.
There are only four universities that teach space law in the world, but two of them reside the U.S., at the University of Mississippi School of Law and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Doctor of Juridical Science.
Professor of aviation and space law Michelle Hanlon at the University of Mississippi told USA TODAY that there are two types of space lawyers: the traditional academic, who can be a professor or international representative, and the growing adviser to companies like Space X.
“This is a really exciting time to be in space law,” she said. “People think of space as for billionaires – they think of it for Branson and Bezos and Musk – but it’s not. There are so many startups that need our help in terms of every aspect of law, not just space law.”
In addition to teaching international and domestic administrative law, Hanlon is the co-founder of law firm ‘For All Moonkind,’ which she says focuses on preserving humans’ heritage in space.
“When you think about preserving our history, we have about 55 space lawyers working with us to talk about how we’re going to protect those sites,” she said.
“Legally, we need to figure out how to get them recognized in the same way we recognize the pyramids or Stonehenge. We don’t have a mechanism to do that in space yet.”
Space archaeologist: A new Indiana Jones
There are other jobs which are actively safeguarding human space heritage: space historians, curators and archaeologist. Space historians have long had a place in preserving artifacts from the Apollo and other space missions for the public.
Smithsonian National Air and Space museum curator and space historian Cathleen Lewis has been working on curating the Smithsonian’s upcoming exhibition featuring Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit.
“This spacesuit is the one really human artifact from the Apollo program that people can identify with,” Lewis told Smithsonian Magazine.
“That image of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon is something that has endured for generations; even people who don’t have a personal memory recognize it as significant.”
Also working on preserving the memory of our space adventures are lunar archaeologists.
There have been six manned landings, two manned orbital missions, over a dozen robotic landings and more than a dozen more crash sites to the moon, which offer a look at mankind then and now.
There is a demand to send archaeologists and anthropologists up to the moon to piece together and preserve human history in space.
“These sites are time capsules,” Beth O’Leary, an anthropologist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, told Smithsonian Magazine in December 2013.
The sites host valuable artifacts for archaeologists and anthropologists who want to study humanity’s growing space heritage, she added.
However, in order to become Space Indiana Jones, as with many jobs on this list, you have to go to school first and get at least a bachelor’s degree. However, at least in the Smithsonian’s case, there are volunteer opportunities.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, trudges across the surface of the moon leaving behind footprints, July 20, 1969. Space lawyer Michelle Hanlon argues that the footprints qualify under conservation law. (Photo: AP)
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Sally Ride, or Han Solo?
Dreams of being Sally Ride controlling the Challenger or a real life Han Solo at the controls of the Millennium Falcon might soon be a reality.
Space flight is already developing beyond NASA missions, however companies like SpaceX and Boeing look specifically for astronauts.
But with commercial space tourism slowly edging into common consciousness, there will be a significant increase in the need for shuttle-steering space pilots.
Virgin Galactic, for example, is such a company, aiming to transform the current cost, safety and environmental impact of space-launch. The company has had 2,500 people ask to sign up for flights, which are set to begin within a year, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya said earlier this month.
“We know that millions of people are deeply inspired by human spaceflight, would love to become more involved and, ultimately experience space for themselves,” said Virgin company CEO Richard Branson in a July 9 statement when the company announced it was going public.
“By taking Virgin Galactic public, at this advanced point in its development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts.”
Why do your forehead and eyes change shape after a year in space? What do days, weeks, or even months or years away from Earth in space mean for a person’s psychologically? How long would you actually survive if you were stranded on Mars?
A number of universities, including King’s College London, seek to answer these questions through space physiology and health programs through “training for biomedical scientists and doctors with an interest in the biomedical issues associated with space exploration.”
These master’s programs are becoming more applicable by the day. The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), runs simulations of space-like events for scientists in “Mars” — or an environment like it, Utah — and is geared towards researching the human challenges to a space mission.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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There’s gold in them there asteroids
There are approximately 9,000 known asteroids currently traveling in orbit close to the Earth, and the 1,000-odd new ones that are discovered each year, according to NASA.
A company called Planetary Resources Inc is looking to harness these space rocks, which the its website says can “make it possible to fuel and sustain life in space, creating a new paradigm of travel and human presence in space.”
According to NASA, the minerals that lie in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter hold wealth equal to a staggering $100 billion for every person on Earth.
But there is more to space mining than a gold rush for the sci-fi age. Taking mining off Earth could help relieve humanity’s destruction of our planet’s environment.
“There are an estimated two trillion tonnes of water available on near-Earth asteroids,” says the company on their website. “This water can be used to sustain human life and as propellant for spacecraft.”
The Colorado School of Mines offers a variety of retraining courses for adults to get certified in this new field.
Cloudy with a chance of… solar flares
Space meteorology is already somewhat a job, though not in the way you would expect.
According to the American Meteorological Society, space weather occurs because emissions from the Sun influence the space environment around Earth, as well as other planets.
“Accurate space weather prediction could save society hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” said AMS in a 2008 statement. “The need for accurate forecasting only increases. Forecasters continually monitor the space environment using both space-and ground-based assets and issue alerts and warnings of a likely impact on Earth.”
If your chosen field is not on this list, don’t give up on your space dreams just yet.
Plenty of fields are opening up in space by the day, and even if your ideal career hasn’t been invented yet, NASA aims to establish a permanent lunar base by 2024, and chances are new positions will open up soon.
Follow Elinor Aspegren on Twitter: @elinoraspegren.
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