Is the low salary for engineers at NASA worth it, knowing they can make 2-3X (and more) elsewhere?

Sure, because you’re paid in “space dollars”.

Realistically, you get paid to do what you like, and NASA pays “enough”. If your personal goal is to be rich, then maybe space isn’t your niche.

NASA and aerospace usually rank highest in “job satisfaction”. Sure, some people can make more money figuring out how to efficiently serve ads cheaply to the right subset of users. But when they’re reading your accomplishments at your funeral, do you want “Helped explore the universe” or “increased the ROI of ABC corp by 2%” to be carved on your tombstone?

Sure, it’s fun to have your stock options skyrocket,

Sure, because you’re paid in “space dollars”.

Realistically, you get paid to do what you like, and NASA pays “enough”. If your personal goal is to be rich, then maybe space isn’t your niche.

NASA and aerospace usually rank highest in “job satisfaction”. Sure, some people can make more money figuring out how to efficiently serve ads cheaply to the right subset of users. But when they’re reading your accomplishments at your funeral, do you want “Helped explore the universe” or “increased the ROI of ABC corp by 2%” to be carved on your tombstone?

Sure, it’s fun to have your stock options skyrocket, and you can buy cool toys. But are you standing with a bunch of other people at 9PM outside watching a big screen and seeing a rover land on Mars and thinking “we did that - and I was there”. I have physically touched (through gloves) the last 4 things to land on Mars from the US, and, I hope, made a positive contribution to their success. There’s not a huge number of people who can say they did that. It’s truly a unique experience.

Yeah, maybe that’s not important to you. And that’s fine. One derives satisfaction from things in addition to base pay and bonuses. FWIW, there’s also not a 2–3x difference *in aerospace* between NASA and aerospace in general, unless you get real lucky.

To get down to brass tacks - there’s an income level where if you’re above it, additional income doesn’t lead to significant increases in job satisfaction.

Key Issues: Federal and Private Sector Pay Comparisons

I used to work at US EPA. Fact is Federal jobs are cushy their health and pension benefits are better than average and pay is comparable, furthermore retirement is excellent and comes early and you can exploit your relationships once you leave Federal employment.

For example, someone can get a masters degree from an ivy league college work for the public health service as a uniformed officer and take early retirement get a military pension and work for the Federal EPA and get paid there whilst collecting military pension and benefits and sta

Key Issues: Federal and Private Sector Pay Comparisons

I used to work at US EPA. Fact is Federal jobs are cushy their health and pension benefits are better than average and pay is comparable, furthermore retirement is excellent and comes early and you can exploit your relationships once you leave Federal employment.

For example, someone can get a masters degree from an ivy league college work for the public health service as a uniformed officer and take early retirement get a military pension and work for the Federal EPA and get paid there whilst collecting military pension and benefits and start at the pay grade you retired in PHS at

then retire early at EPA collect a Federal Pension there - and start a company and sell lab services to both EPA and PHS whilst collecting two pensions and enjoying great credit from Pentagon Federal Credit Union - all before you're 40.

This career path has few risks and tremendous compensation opportunities that continue to accumulate.

That all depends on if you can find satisfaction doing the kind of work only NASA can do, such as devising and promoting vast conspiracies about a “round Earth,” directing the largest naval fleet in history to guard the ice wall rim, organizing shoot sessions with famous Hollywood directors that can be used to “fake” rocket and satellite launches, etc.

I’M KIDDING!

Seriously though, once upon a time if you wanted to work on rockets, advanced aerospace tech or contribute to space exploration NASA was the only way to go. Now with even private rocket companies springing up left and right the choice

That all depends on if you can find satisfaction doing the kind of work only NASA can do, such as devising and promoting vast conspiracies about a “round Earth,” directing the largest naval fleet in history to guard the ice wall rim, organizing shoot sessions with famous Hollywood directors that can be used to “fake” rocket and satellite launches, etc.

I’M KIDDING!

Seriously though, once upon a time if you wanted to work on rockets, advanced aerospace tech or contribute to space exploration NASA was the only way to go. Now with even private rocket companies springing up left and right the choice is less obvious, though you might want to consider the cons of working for Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk vs. the U.S. Government. The benefits aren’t quite what they used to be, but then again neither are the benefits in private or public companies.

My father worked most of his career with NASA and contributed to the Gemini and Apollo programs. As you would guess we didn’t exactly grow up rich, but we were never wanting, and he did have quite a bit of satisfaction in his work - especially with the moon landings!

First, NASA jobs are a lot more secure than private sector jobs.

Second, Civil Service pay is a lot better than the half or third of private sector pay that the question assumes.

Finally, there are some folks who are genuine space enthusiasts and NASA is the best place to be to influence and participate in US space activities.

A2A: “Is the low salary for engineers at NASA worth it, knowing they can make 2-3X (and more) elsewhere?”

Depends what you want to do with your life I guess. One thing is for sure, there are no shortage of people that would like to work there.

I once spoke to the man who buttoned up Apollo 11 when the crew got into it for the first moon landing.

He told me working there was the most amazing he could ever imagine doing. And the amazing thing he said was that he even got paid to do it.

He said the dirty secret was that most of the people there did not care about the money as long as they had enough to get by. Some would have done it for free, holding a second job for living expenses.

That anyone there just for money did not last long.

People at NASA are either civil servants or contractors. Contractor pay scales depend on the contract and competition in that subsection of industry.

NASA civil servant pay is dictated by the General Schedule (GS). The GS covers 1.5 million government employees across professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions.

The General Schedule is broken into 15 grades (GS-1 through GS-15) and each grade consists of 10 steps. Each step is assigned a fixed dollar amount. Usually, employees work their way up the steps, with a step increase happening annually for the first 3 steps and e

People at NASA are either civil servants or contractors. Contractor pay scales depend on the contract and competition in that subsection of industry.

NASA civil servant pay is dictated by the General Schedule (GS). The GS covers 1.5 million government employees across professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions.

The General Schedule is broken into 15 grades (GS-1 through GS-15) and each grade consists of 10 steps. Each step is assigned a fixed dollar amount. Usually, employees work their way up the steps, with a step increase happening annually for the first 3 steps and every 2 years for steps 4-6 and then every 3 years for steps 7-9. If the job supports it, an increase from one grade to another can happen without completing all steps. Many jobs have fixed grade ranges and once an employee is maxed out for that grade, they no longer make progress.

The GS tables for the current year can be found at the website of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management - www.OPM.gov. Those tables are split into geographic regions. Most civil servant salaries include a locality pay that is based on competing job salaries in the geographic area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Within NASA, most professional employees will be within the GS-9 to GS-15 scales. College Coops are at the GS-9 level. Engineers are usually between GS-11 and GS-13. GS-14 is usually a management position. Astronauts are usually GS-13 to GS-15. Upper management is at GS-15. Some of the people at the highest level, like the Administrator and other key executives are on a different scale (SES - Senior Executive Service).

NASA pays on the GS scale (Page on opm.gov). If you have a BS in engineering expect to start in the high 40's or low 50's. If you are looking at the scale, GS-14 is a big milestone... it to used to be called Eagle. You would see parking signs for Eagle and higher. There are local adjustments for cost of living. You will make more in private industry but money will only buy toys not happiness.