The Space Industry offers a wide variety of careers and opportunities. You might be surprised at the variety of opportunities across maths, physics, chemistry, engineering and computing.
The Space Science and Technology sector typically employes people with primary degrees (NFQ Levels 7 or 8) and with a relatively high proportion of employees at postgraduate level (NFQ Levels 9 and 10).
The “space” sector in Ireland is quite varied and includes companies from many areas of technology. These include aerospace, structures, electronics, optoelectronics, software and bio-diagnostics.
School leavers should think about continuing their education at third level, before considering a career in the space sector.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
The people who have most influenced my career would be my father and my wife. My father because he would have his own business when I was young, so I saw what he did and I suppose we all to some extent copy our parents. And my wife in supporting me in doing this and buying into the idea and giving me the space to actually try it.
Describe a typical day?
Get up, shower, come to work, go home, play with the kids and go to bed. It'ss very simple, but I suppose, a lot of my job is travel. I have to travel an awful lot because there's no real business in Ireland, this is an international service that we do for people all over the globe: for big space agencies, governments, for big broadcasters. So most of my life is out there selling the services to people all over the globe. I've just come back from Jerusalem where I was for a week at a conference.
The week before that I was in the States; next week I'm back to Knoxville, the week after I might go to Russia. It sounds great and glamorous, but I don't like being away from my family for more than two days, so at the moment I'm trying to cut it back. If I was single and young it would be a dream. With my kids, I prefer to spend time at home now.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
Strategic planning would be the biggest part of my job. I'm planning what's going on and driving it forward. The implementation of that, through the different managers that I have here, would be the second part. Then there's constant fire-fighting, you always have issues or things that you've to focus on, so most of my life is spent jumping from one thing to another, while at the same time driving sales and getting in new business.
What are the main challenges?
Space. For me, this is absolutely so much fun. When you look at where we are right now, there are a couple of majors points in human history: we came from the jungle and stepped out onto the plains was one, we crossed the ocean (number two), and number three is we move into space and become an interplanetary species, and we're right there at the start of that. This is, for me, the most exciting thing of the whole lot, everything we're doing now; and you can see that the general public are buying into this, with all of the movies at the moment. In the sixties you had a bit of this, when people saw what was possible.
And then, we went to the moon, and it was massive, and everyone was cheering, and ticker tape and all the rest of it. And then, it settled down, because we realised what we couldn't do; we got to the moon, but in the process we realised all of the things that we couldn't do, so science backed off and focused on what we need to do to move to the next step, now that we understood what it was like being in space. Since then, we've been gently gently probing, but now we're on the edge of a move to Mars, and I reckon in my lifetime, I'll see a Martian born, which is really exciting.
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
I wouldn't have been what you would call a very studious student. When I was in school I was mainly playing rugby, and loved rugby, but didn't really like studying so much. But I did study Latin, maths, English, Irish, art, physics and history. Physics I was very interested in and it's the interest in physics right now that helps me with work, but it wasn't something I excelled at in school.
I had very good science teachers in school, and my interest in physics probably has pushed me in some way. With this industry you are learning every day; every day is a school day, you gotta learn stuff, you gotta read yourself a lot. I have to educate myself an awful lot on the technologies we're dealing with and what's going on in my sector, so it's self-education really more than anything.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
One thing that was a real giggle was meeting Buzz Aldrin; that was fun, having dinner with Buzzhe was a cranky old hound but it was fun meeting him because he's been on the moon. And for me in this industry, that's just mad. There've been tons of other things, like getting to the launch of [Cmdr Chris] Hadfield's mission in Kazakhstan that, again, for the team here was amazing.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
If you look at the staff we have here, they've come from all over the place. Some have been ex-Navy or have been Comms officers on ships; we have people who have been involved in building work and ended up coming here..it really is very random how people have ended up here. Often people have studied science in school, but often they haven't done science degrees, but have ended up meandering through various different industries to get here; so most of all it's to follow what you're interested in and what you enjoy doing. Like I say to the gang here, if they're not waking up in the morning wanting to go in to work, they need to change jobs.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Certainly for my job, you need to have a brass neck and just be willing to go out there and take rejection and keep plodding on. With science and engineering you tend to need to be attention focused and be good on detail, and able to go through process. I have the attention span of a gnat, so I wouldn't be good at tracking process, but our engineering gang here would be very good at that. So it depends on which job [you have]; and like they say with rugby that there's a place for everyone on the team, so in companies [working on] space, there's space for everybody.
There's accounts, there's admin, there's sales, there's marketing. There's a place in the company for anyone with any skillset, if they're interested. And if you're interested, you don't mind coming in early, you don't mind leaving late or working weekends. You're doing what you want to do, so it's easy.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
If you want to be a launch engineer, you would try and get work experience in the European Space Agency programme in the launch area. If you want to do a broadcast, you would try and go to the broadcasting show in Amsterdam and get experience at the show there. It's such a broad industry, it's very hard to say what any one person should do. It's really what suits them and their aspirations for their future career. I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up, so for someone at 20, god help them.