How Astronauts Use Math

Aug 11, 2021 | Littleton

How Astronauts Use Math


One of the biggest news stories of the past few weeks is the achievement of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and businessman Richard Branson completing individual trips into space. Although Bezos and Branson are not classified as astronauts, this accomplishment puts a spotlight on the importance and excitement of space exploration and inspires us to ask, "How do astronauts use math?"


Math is important to astronauts because it impacts how they can safely perform their jobs. Astronauts must rely on their math knowledge to ensure a successful takeoff from Earth, expertly direct their spacecraft, and to ensure a safe landing, often without the luxury of a calculator! Miscalculations in either of these instances could put the space crew in harm's way.


If you have dreams of blasting into space on a rocket and seeing Earth from up above, keep reading to find out how math can get you there!


What Math Skills Do Astronauts Use?

In addition to using basic math skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, astronauts need to have a working knowledge of more advanced math subjects such as trigonometry and calculus. Trigonometry studies the measurement of angles and distances. Thanks to trigonometry we know the distances between the planets from the Earth. When an astronaut needs to calculate the speed they are moving in the spacecraft, if they already know the distance from a particular location they can use trigonometry to calculate the unknown distance to another location point. Without this field of study, space travel would likely be non-existent.


Calculus studies the rate of change, meaning it studies things that move. Objects in space, such as the planets and stars are constantly in motion, so knowing calculus is useful for astronauts when they journey into space. Astronauts use calculus to determine how the spaceship itself moves. For example, calculus is used to determine the rate of speed required for the spaceship to successfully reach space from the Earth.


What Are the Educational Requirements?

Astronauts are required to have at least a bachelor's degree, typically in a STEM subject, such as in mathematics, engineering, computer science or the physical sciences, like physics or chemistry. Most also go on to obtain a master's degree or a Ph.D. as well.


Once the education requirements are met, to begin the process of becoming an astronaut, you must apply and be selected. You can apply to become an astronaut as a member of the military or as a non-military applicant who applies directly through the United States’ space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


Being a teacher is also an avenue to becoming an astronaut. Teachers still must have a bachelor's degree in a related field but teaching experience does qualify in the event an advanced degree is not obtained.


What Steps Can You Take Today?

No matter your grade or math experience, it's always a great time to expose yourself to new and exciting math fundamentals you can use for this potential career path. Here are some suggestions to act on for the upcoming school year.


●      Register for the more advanced math courses, such as pre-calculus, geometry, and trigonometry, if it's not already required for your school curriculum. Becoming an astronaut is a competitive field, so it's important to have some advanced courses under your belt to improve your chances.

●      Join a mathematics or STEM club at school or in your community to meet

like-minded students and be exposed to various opportunities you may not have been aware of.

●      Participate in a local STEM fair or competition. An update from the standard science fair, a STEM fair includes projects related to science, technology, engineering, math and sometimes the arts. It allows students to integrate these fields together and is typically more interactive.


Taking off into space may be a distant dream for you right now, but developing strong math skills today can help make that dream a reality.  Astronauts may not use all math subjects very frequently, but they will have the foundations to use them when needed. Most importantly, by taking these advanced courses throughout school, you will become more comfortable with complex and abstract math problems and build up your confidence, whatever career path you choose.


Our Mathnasium center offers advanced math courses help for students taking these challenging courses. Students have the option to receive individualized face-to-face instruction at our center or learn virtually through live sessions provided through our Mathnasium@Home program. Instruction is tailored to each student to best meet their math needs and goals. Give us a call today or reach out to us online today to schedule your child's free assessment.