This past week I received a message from someone who found me via LinkedIn. Deepthy from India is one of those folks I especially appreciate because she wants to be a writer for NASA. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more challenging for her than for me, as this post explains. The good news is: there are options!
First, here’s her original message:
Hello Mr. Leahy, I hope you are doing good.
I am a content writer and a marketing associate from India who aspires to write for NASA. I recently stumbled upon your blogs that talk about writing for NASA and thought I would reach out to you for guidance. I have a degree in English Literature and Communication Studies and a Master’s in Mass Communication and Journalism. I have also been planning to do some distant courses on Science Writing, which I think will enrich my skillset. I recently came across an opportunity (Media Relations Specialist) that fits my profile at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But I also understand that NASA exercises some level of stringency in regards to the citizenship of its employees. Ever since I can remember, I have been enamored of Cosmology and the consequential work that NASA does. My brother, whom I look up to, is a graduate of Purdue University and has already worked on a project for NASA during his Masters. Do you think my aspiration is unrealistic or should I keep pursuing my goal? Is NASA particular about the candidate’s citizenship while hiring for non-technical roles?
My original message to her read as follows:
Thank you for reaching out. Your concerns about nationality requirements are legitimate. One thing I should clarify is that I’ve worked primarily on launch vehicles, which are rockets, which can be used as nuclear missiles. Hence the rules. However, I don’t know if that’s true about all aspects of NASA. You might, for example, look at writing jobs like the one you described, which focus on the sciences, and see what the citizenship requirements are.
Another option could be to look at the principal investigator side of things—colleges and universities working the science end for NASA. But, again, you’d need to learn what the rules are.
As a last alternative, you could become an American citizen. I know even less about how to do that, but there is a lot of paperwork involved. There also used to be (and still is) an exam. A hundred years ago, when my family was moving over here from Germany after the Great War, they needed to prove that they had someone in this country who was going to give them a job. I don’t know if that’s a rule anymore, but those are the things you’d need to consider. If there’s something you’d like me to cover in more depth, let me know. I’m always happy to find fellow space writers. We’re a rare breed! 🙂🤓
(*It’s not just the rockets, it’s the guidance, navigation, and control systems the control them. Also, there’s the high-end optics. If a telescope can see galaxies billions of light-years away, imagine what it could see here if it was pointed back at Earth.)
Deepthy also asked about magazines or other publications that frequently write about NASA’s work. In response, I suggested the following outlets:
- Space News
- Aviation Week & Space Technology
- National Geographic (good luck with this one–it’s on my must-do-before-I-die list!)
The following universities that have ties to NASA:
- Arizona State University
- Auburn University
- California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech)
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Purdue University
- University of Arizona
There are no doubt others. Those are just the ones I’ve encountered during my adventures in the space biz.
After suggesting the above, I did a little more digging. What I’ve learned, unfortunately, is that it’s really difficult or practically impossible for foreign nationals–the U.S. Government designation for citizens of other countries–to get a job in anything close to NASA. That goes for the civil service and contractor worlds (check out the other articles I’ve written on this subject here). It can even be difficult to be a reporter on space matters–at least if you want to visit NASA facilities–if you weren’t born here. My apologies, I don’t make these rules. : (
However, I didn’t want to end on a down note, so I did some additional surfing and found a couple answers Deepthy and other aspiring space writers of the world might find helpful. One is written by my fellow freelance consultant Laura Seward Forczyk. Laura also offers career coaching services for young professionals looking to get into the space business, so you might give her site a look. I also found this extended post on the subject in the Quora forum. I don’t know the author, but the post made a lot of sense.
And while it does my cynical American heart good to know that NASA is one of my homeland’s best public relations operations, you might also take a look at some of the exciting things the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is doing. They’ve sent spacecraft to the Moon and Mars and have been looking at sending Indian crews into orbit sometime this decade. I’m certain they’d appreciate an enthusiastic writer who’s interested in sharing their missions with the world. Still, if you really want to work for NASA, far be it for me to discourage you. Come join us crazy Yanks on this side of the globe! We need all the enthusiasm we can get.
Best of luck in your adventures, Deepthy!