Now is a great time to get in aerospace engineering. NASA is beginning to phase out the space shuttles (due to be retired in 2010) and is in the process of developing the Ares rockets. These are to be the spacecraft of the future. There is a great deal of involving in the development of these rockets. There are to be two rockets per trip in the Ares program, a rocket that carries the crew, the Ares I rocket, and a rocket that carries the cargo, the Ares V rocket.
For students beginning college in the near future, this is a chance to help develop and work in the next step of space exploration. NASA is planning to establish a base on the moon by 2018 and to launch a manned mission to Mars from the moon. What an honor and privilege it would be to work on the first manned mission to another planet! Over 200 private companies currently have contracts with NASA on the Ares program. NASA is planning the first test flight for the Ares I rocket to be scheduled for 2009.
NASA is also currently developing a new lunar lander named Altair. Altair will be capable of landing four astronauts on the moon and it will provide the astronauts a temporary base on the surface moon for one week. Here at NC State, our aerospace engineering department is working the ablative shielding for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), the command module of the Ares I rocket. The ablative shielding is the layer of material that burns off the spacecraft during reentry. It prevents the spacecraft from burning up on reentry. Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract for Orion.
There are many co-op and internship opportunities available for aerospace engineers. Many of the private aerospace companies offer co-ops and internships and NASA offers a few as well. Co-ops and internships are like extended job interviews. You are paid to go and work at an aerospace company and if they like you, then you are already in good standing with the company and the company knows what you are capable of. They may offer a job before you even graduate! Imagine still being in college and having the peace of mind that when you graduate, you already have a job waiting for you.
Many private aerospace companies are in the development stages of commercial space flight. Virgin Galactic, for example, is working on a spacecraft designed to take tourists into space for short period of time. Many other companies are working on similar civilian space projects as well. Aerospace engineers also develop aircraft and projectiles. The U.S. military is always looking for a cutting edge in aircraft and missile technology.