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Aerospace Engineering Major offers opportunities outside of NASA

Contributing Writer

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Sunday, February 10, 2013 12:02

Experimental Mechanics Lab

Sophie Grace/Central Florida Future

Dr. Moslehy Faissal, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, observes students in the Experimental Mechanics Lab on Tuesday.

Out of this world. After years of countless math problems, technological experiments and all-nighters, that is the kind of job the approximately 500 Aerospace Engineering majors at UCF look forward to after graduation.

Ideally located in close proximity to the Kennedy Space Center, UCF has much to offer students who want to make their mark on major space expeditions — or at least that was the case until the recent retirement of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space shuttle program, which spread concern throughout UCF’s Aerospace Engineering program.

The end of the NASA program was the direct result of the budget authority allotted by the federal government. According to NASA’s official website, spending on the program declined in past years, most recently from $18.5 million in 2011 to an estimated $17.8 million in 2012. In 2013, it fell once again to a requested $17.7 million.

Budget cuts have also played a tremendous role in staffing. CFNews13.com reported in September 2012 that the United Space Alliance would be laying off more than 150 employees nationwide, 121 of whom worked in Brevard County.

With so many jobs lost since the layoffs began in 2009, and the majority of them so close to home, Aerospace Engineering students at UCF need to assess other options they will have upon graduation.

For one, NASA is currently developing a replacement for the space shuttle program: the Space Launch System and, within it, the Orion Capsule.

SLS is a new program that emphasizes new exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. The program is meant to provide the nation with a safe and affordable way to explore outer space.

NASA’s website stated the retired space shuttles will be displayed at institutions across the country to inspire the next generation of explorers and engineers.

“Will they ever completely fill in the void left by the space shuttle program? Maybe not, but I think it’s going to offer a lot of opportunities for graduating students at UCF,” director of the Florida Space Institute Ray Lugo said.

In 2012, FSI relocated from Kennedy Space Center to Research Park near UCF, where it could become integrated in the academic community.

In the future, FSI will work to build relationships with academic and business sectors in Florida to create even more opportunities.

UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering also sees the positive impact that comes from NASA’s change in direction. The only apparent negative effect applies to the “people who were at NASA [who] have to be retrained to do other jobs, or face being laid off,” Department Chair Suhada Jayasuriya said. "There are many other aerospace companies that [UCF] students are trained to work for.”

Jayasuriya said UCF was never thought of as a pipeline to NASA.

“NASA is one opportunity,” he said. “Our students don’t have to work on complete systems; they can work on subsystems.”

Other aerospace-oriented companies students can work for include SpaceX, XCOR, Siemens and General Electric.

Not all careers interests for aerospace students lie in the realm of space exploration. Junior Aerospace Engineering major Shawn Edgar said he is fascinated by aviation in general and hopes to be a pilot after completing his education.

“I actually joined the Marine Corps and flew helicopters for five years," Edgar said. “That built my interest in studying Aerospace Engineering.”

Jayasuriya said there are still opportunities springing up for students and graduates.

“There are lots of operational and research issues that are still being studied [in the new SLS, and] we already have some of our students working with some of the NASA engineers building these unmanned air systems,” Jayasuriya said.

For these reasons, freshman Aerospace Engineering major Tyler Manfred said he does not fear entering the workforce after NASA’s retirement of the space shuttle program. He said he is most interested in working with the aerodynamics of cars.

“Preferably some kind of race car,” Manfred said.

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