Being a Rocket Scientist: Astronautical Engineering

Alex-2016 Alex, Viterbi Class 0 Comments

Dear high school senior,

You have already applied, and maybe even already accepted, to USC and the prestigious Viterbi school of Engineering. You have expressed an interest in engineering, but what discipline? From aerospace engineering to biomedical engineering to civil engineering to computer science, Viterbi offers many roads to travel.

The road I chose was a little less travelled, and more in tune with my inner desire to become the next Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker. I decided to become a rocket scientist. But rocket science is just the fundamental stepping stone of astronautical engineering. Astronautical engineering majors may focus on rockets, spaceships, and satellites, but we also dabble in other engineering fields. Last fall, I learned how to map temperature gradients in jet airplane turbine engines through the computer language MATLAB- Computer Science. Last spring, I took a statics course to better appreciate the competing forces on a rocket during takeoff- Mechanical Engineering. And, even this semester, I am practicing safe engineering procedures by determining maximum allowable stresses and forces in certain materials- Civil Engineering. Astronautical engineers depend on the teaching of the other engineering disciplines.

In my courses devoted specifically to astronautical engineering, I do what I love. In USC’s Rocket Propulsion Lab, I build rockets destined for the Von Karman line, the boundary of space. In the rocket lab, I have learned how to build a successful parachute system to recover the rocket upon descent. When I am not in the lab bundling parachutes or in the desert launching rockets, I am in the classroom, drawing orbital diagrams and calculating launch trajectories for interplanetary missions.

Hopefully, my four years at SC will take me to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. To reach the final frontier, I would start my voyage at a private sector aerospace engineering company, possibly working at SpaceX, Boeing, or Virgin Galactic. While working, I hope to focus my research on propulsion systems for long distance space travel, investigating the merits of imaginary systems, such as Star Trek’s warp drive, and more practical ones, like ion thrusters. Already, several of my close friends in the astronautical engineering program have gone on to work at Virgin, Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman. I just hope to continue a long legacy of Viterbi excellence post-graduation.

At Viterbi, you will have many paths to choose from. But, remember, only an astronautical engineer is a rocket scientist!


Flight on,

Alex Coco, Rocket Scientist Extraordinaire

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