Aerospace engineering explained

Aerospace engineer
Official Names:engineer
aerospace engineer
Activity Sector:aeronautics, astronautics, science
Competencies:technical knowledge, management skills
Formation:see professional requirements
Employment Field:technology, science, military

Aerospace engineering is the branch of engineering behind the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft. Aerospace engineering has broken into two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. The former deals with craft that stay within Earth's atmosphere, and the latter deals with craft that operate outside of Earth's atmosphere. While "aeronautical" was the original term, the broader "aerospace" has superseded it in usage, as flight technology advanced to include craft operating in outer space.[1] Aerospace engineering is often informally called rocket science.


Modern flight vehicles undergo severe conditions such as differences in atmospheric pressure and temperature, or heavy structural load applied upon vehicle components. Consequently, they are usually the products of various technologies including aerodynamics, avionics, materials science and propulsion. These technologies are collectively known as aerospace engineering. Because of the complexity of the field, aerospace engineering is conducted by a team of engineers, each specializing in their own branches of science.,[2] The development and manufacturing of a flight vehicle demands careful balance and compromise between abilities, design, available technology and costs.


See also: Aviation history. Alberto Santos Dumont, a pioneer who built the first machines that were able to fly, played an important role in the development of aviation. Some of the first ideas for powered flight may have come from Leonardo da Vinci, who, although he did not build any successful models, did develop many sketches and ideas for "flying machines".

The origin of aerospace engineering can be traced back to the aviation pioneers around the late 19th century to early 20th centuries, although the work of Sir George Cayley has recently been dated as being from the last decade of the 18th century. Early knowledge of aeronautical engineering was largely empirical with some concepts and skills imported from other branches of engineering.[3] Scientists understood some key elements of aerospace engineering, like fluid dynamics, in the 18th century. Only a decade after the successful flights by the Wright brothers, the 1910s saw the development of aeronautical engineering through the design of World War I military aircraft.

The first definition of aerospace engineering appeared in February 1958.[1] The definition considered the Earth's atmosphere and the outer space as a single realm, thereby encompassing both aircraft (aero) and spacecraft (space) under a newly coined word aerospace. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was founded in 1958 as a response to the Cold War. United States aerospace engineers sent the American first satellite launched on January 31, 1958 in response the USSR launching Sputnik.[4]


See also: List of aerospace engineering topics. Some of the elements of aerospace engineering are:[5] [6]

The basis of most of these elements lies in theoretical mathematics, such as fluid dynamics for aerodynamics or the equations of motion for flight dynamics. However, there is also a large empirical component. Historically, this empirical component was derived from testing of scale models and prototypes, either in wind tunnels or in the free atmosphere. More recently, advances in computing have enabled the use of computational fluid dynamics to simulate the behavior of fluid, reducing time and expense spent on wind-tunnel testing.

Additionally, aerospace engineering addresses the integration of all components that constitute an aerospace vehicle (subsystems including power, communications, thermal control, life support, etc.) and its life cycle (design, temperature, pressure, radiation, velocity, life time).

Aerospace engineering degrees

See also: List of aerospace engineering schools.

Aerospace (or aeronautical) engineering can be studied at the advanced diploma, bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. levels in aerospace engineering departments at many universities, and in mechanical engineering departments at others. A few departments offer degrees in space-focused astronautical engineering. The programs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rutgers University are two such examples.[6] US News and World Report ranks the aerospace engineering programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan within the top three best programs for doctorate granting universities. However, other top programs within the ten best in the United States include those of Stanford University, Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, Purdue University and the University of Illinois.[7] The magazine also rates Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and United States Air Force Academy as the premier aerospace engineering programs at universities that do not grant doctorate degrees.[8]

Popular culture

The term "rocket scientist" is at times used to describe a person of higher than average intelligence. Aerospace engineering has also been represented as the more "glittery" pinnacle of engineering. The movie Apollo 13 depicts the ground team as a group of heroes in a Hollywood fashion glorifying the intelligence and competence of white shirt and tie professionals. This was later extended in more detail in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

See also

Notes and References

  1. Encyclopedia: Engineering. Stanzione, Kaydon Al. Encyclopædia Britannica. 18. 15. 563–563. 1989. Chicago.
  2. Web site: Career: Aerospace Engineer. 2006-10-08. Career Profiles. The Princeton Review. Due to the complexity of the final product, an intricate and rigid organizational structure for production has to be maintained, severely curtailing any single engineer's ability to understand his role as it relates to the final project..
  3. Encyclopedia: Kermit Van Every. Encyclopedia Americana. Aeronautical engineering. 1988. Grolier Incorporated. 1.
  4. A Brief History of NASA
  5. Encyclopedia: Open Site. Science: Engineering: Aerospace. 2006-10-08.
  6. Mike. Gruntman. September 19, 2007. The Time for Academic Departments in Astronautical Engineering. AIAA SPACE 2007 Conference & Exposition. AIAA SPACE 2007 Conference & Exposition Agenda. AIAA.
  7. America's Best Colleges 2008: Aerospace / Aeronautical / Astronautical
  8. America's Best Colleges 2008: Aerospace / Aeronautical / Astronautical