Want a Private Space Job? SpaceX Insider Tells All
During an enlightening Reddit AMA, the SpaceX HR manager revealed some tips on what the company looks for in prospective candidates.
The company SpaceX has a certain mystique: a founder who builds electric cars; rockets that self-land; a privately-funded spacecraft that became the first to supply the International Space Station. Soon, astronauts will hitch a ride on SpaceX's Dragon spaceships as well.
Wouldn't it be a dream come true to work there? Get in line.
The internship program alone had enough applications to fill a stadium last year -- that's 39,000 people. Luckily for the applicants, HR manager Brian Bjelde (also SpaceX employee No. 14) recently took to Reddit to give his tips for getting into the company and helping it get to Mars someday.
"We know that in rocket engineering, there are millions of ways for a rocket to fail and only one way for it to work right. We're looking for great people who will help us to try, fail, try again, and ultimately succeed," Bjelde wrote.
"One of the key enablers of getting to Mars is producing super safe and reliable rockets and with that in mind we've created some hard core engineering departments with specific focus on ensuring we've designed in reliability, that we produced hardware reliably and repeatably, and that we've considered all the system impacts that can affect reliability of the mission."
In various answers to the "ask me anything" session, Bjelde said the company doesn't just rely on GPA for aspiring applicants. They're also looking for talent and problem-solving, and they even pull from pools such as military veterans. And while the hours at SpaceX are long, he said they aren't usually 80 or 100 hours a week as some people say. Turnover rates "are below average for the industry", he said.
WATCH VIDEO: How to Get a Job In Space
"My best advice is to find your passion, acquire as much hands-on experience, and effectively present that in your application," he said. "We believe great talent can be found anywhere and are scouring the universe to try and find it. In many cases it is not as simple as finding graduates from top engineering schools. We've discovered great talent from all kinds of interesting places ... even meeting someone at a laundromat."
He said there are a few things that make SpaceX stand out. Its employees think about the mission of humanity to "become a multi-planetary species," as well as focusing on the nuts and bolts of individual missions. The organization works mostly outside of hierarchies, in recognition that sometimes the best solution comes from more junior people. Moreover, SpaceX takes "the hardest shots," sets "aggressive goals" and avoids "analysis paralysis" when it comes to figuring out what to do.
Bjelde also recalled some of the moments he's had at SpaceX, such as when the first rocket landed safely after bringing a mission successfully to space.
"I cried like a baby when it landed ... I still get goosebumps recalling the moment," he said.
But not all of it was rosy. Bjelde also has a scrap of an early Falcon 1 that failed after launch. "Every failure hurts, but this felt personal since Falcon 1 was everything to me. Bittersweet as the successes today are built on the shoulders of lessons learned from those early failures."
If you're still eager to join SpaceX's "road to the Red Planet," you can check out career and internship opportunities on this page.
GALLERY: Lesson of SpaceX Rocket Landing: Try, Try, Try Again
A repaired and upgraded Falcon 9 rocket not only put SpaceX back in the launch business on Monday, it stunningly demonstrated that with enough time, technical expertise and maybe a little luck, it’s possible to return a rocket booster to the launch site. Here’s a look back at the highs and lows along the way to this historic moment.
SpaceX pulled off an historic first Monday night, launching a network of communications satellites into orbit, and then landing the rocket’s jettisoned main stage back near the launch site. SpaceX gave its customer, Orbcomm, a cut-rate $47 million, two-flight deal, a savings for more than $70 million. Orbcomm, which operates machine-to-machine communications systems, such as between shipping containers and retailers, was an early SpaceX adopter, booking rides on the company’s now-decommissioned Falcon 1 launcher. SpaceX moved Orbcomm to its bigger Falcon 9 rockets for the same price. Landing the booster was the icing on the cake, an experiment conducted at SpaceX’s expense. The touchdown, however, may lead to even better prices for Orbcomm and SpaceX’s other customers in the future, with a new category of launch vehicle in the offing slightly used.
Photo: This is a striking timelapse image shows the bright streaks caused by the Falcon 9 launch and its returning first stage booster.
SpaceX founder and chief executive had a nasty surprise on his 44th birthday: a Falcon 9 rocket blasting off to deliver a load of cargo to the International Space Station broke apart about two minutes after liftoff from Florida on June 28. It was the first failure of the Falcon 9, which had flown 18 times previously. The accident, which was caused by a faulty strut in the rocket’s upper-stage liquid oxygen tank, kept the Falcon 9 fleet grounded for six months.
Photo: This image is a snapshot of the dramatic NASA TV footage of the moment when the Falcon 9 rocket exploded moments after lift off on June 28.
Following a series of tests to control booster descent, SpaceX customized a pair of ocean platforms in hopes of bringing a Falcon 9 first-stage back intact, a key step in the company’s quest to develop a reusable launcher, one that could fly for a fraction of today’s going rate. Nailing the landing was “like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a windstorm,” SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said at the time. During the first attempt to land at sea, in January 2015, the booster hit the target, but landed too hard, primarily because the hydraulic system needed to operate stabilizing grid fins, ran out of fluid. The next attempt, in April, a stuck valve prevented the booster from reacting fast enough to maintain position after a successful touchdown. It toppled over and exploded.
Photo: During ocean landing tests, SpaceX proved they could return their Falcon 9 boosters to a precise target, but maintaining stability on touchdown has been a problem.
SpaceX’s early attempts to develop rocket landing technologies included a suborbital testbed called Grasshopper, which was used for low-altitude, low-speed hover and landing tests beginning in September 2012. On its eighth and final flight in October 2013, Grasshopper flew to an altitude of 2,441 feet and landed. A follow-on program, the Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle, or F9R, had a successful debut in April 2014, but crashed due to a faulty sensor four months later.
Photo: The experimental Grasshopper rocket hovers over its launch site during early tests.
One of the first to offer congratulations to Elon Musk and SpaceX for nailing a rocket landing was Jeff Bezos, fellow billionaire rocketeer who founded his own space company, Blue Origin, in 2000, a couple of years before Musk started SpaceX. “Welcome to the club!” Bezos posted on Twitter, a not-so-oblique reference to his company nailing a landing of its suborbital New Shepard rocket a month ago. After that feat, Musk took to Twitter to offer his own congratulations, also couched with comments about the relative difficulty of landing from orbital versus suborbital velocities. Rocket races, anyone?
Photo: Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket achieves touchdown after a successful suborbital launch test.
Cheap, reusable rockets aren’t just good for business. SpaceX founder Elon Musk sees them as an essential part of the technology needed to get to Mars. “Now is the first time in the history of Earth ... where it's possible for us to extend life to other planets," Musk said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this month. "That window may be open for a long time -- and hopefully it is -- but it also may be open for a short time," he said. “The wise move is to make life multi-planetary while we can.” A large part of making space travel affordable is reducing launch costs, hence SpaceX’s steadfast efforts to develop reusable rockets. Musk said each Falcon 9 costs about $16 million to build, but fuel for the flight is a relatively cheap $200,000. Slashing costs by that much is a game-changer. SpaceX’s next job will be to assess the condition of the recovered Falcon and then possibly fly it again.