Brain Surgery vs. Rocket Science

Brain Surgery vs. Rocket Science

Brain Surgery vs. Rocket Science

Both brain surgery and rocket science have reputations for being some of the hardest intellectual fields of work, and those reputations are well earned. The former works with the most complex structure known to man, while the latter wrangles with physics and chemistry to enable the exploration of space. It’s hard to compare the two disciplines directly.

Rocket scientists work in the design, development and testing of rocket engines and the vehicles that they propel, whether these are spacecraft, missiles or even jetpacks. Brain surgeons, on the other hand, apply knowledge of neuroscience and anatomy to fix brains that have gone wrong.

Rocket scientists do research and development and their findings allow engineers and mechanics to build and use the big, impressive rockets that carry astronauts to the Moon. Brain surgeons use the science of neuroscientists and tools developed by engineers and physicists to work at the front line of medicine.

A fairer comparison would be rocket scientists versus neuroscientists, or brain surgeons against rocket mechanics, but for the sake of argument, we’re going to put this to one side and compare them anyway. Both fields are relatively new, and are growing in depth and scale all the time as advancements are made.

Modern rocket science began in the early 20th century, advanced substantially during World War II with the advent of guided missiles, and leapt out of this world during the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States that began in the 1950s.

Modern brain surgery started at a similar time and has jumped rapidly from crude operations using imprecise tools to precision interventions that take advantage of the latest in biomedical tech. Read on to find out if one really is harder than the other.

Let the battle of the brains begin – It’s time to discover the routes and rewards available to these scientists



Brain Surgeon – In the UK, training for brain surgery begins with a five-year medical degree. This is followed by two years of foundation training, and then at least eight more years of neurosurgical training.

Rocket Scientist – There are different routes into rocket science, but most begin with a three- or four-year degree. Some follow up with a PhD, but it’s possible to enter the field without a university education via an apprenticeship.



Brain surgeon – Brain surgeons are responsible for the lives of their patients, and operate on the most complex structure in the human body. Steady hands and mille meter precision are required. This is life and death work.

Rocket Scientist – These scientists work on multimillion pound projects to send the latest tech into space. Most missions are unmanned, but some carry crew. Others work in defense, critical for protecting soldiers and civilians.



Brain Surgeon – The human brain is exquisitely complex, containing an estimated 86 billion neurons. Our understanding of its biology is incomplete, but brain surgeons are effective in their roles regardless.

Rocket Scientist – Rocket science is based on physics and formulae, with hundreds of years of research to draw upon. But, rocket scientists work at the edge of this knowledge, combining several scientific disciplines.



Brain Surgeon – Brain surgeons have treated hundreds of thousands of people with conditions ranging from brain cancer to epilepsy, changing the lives not only of their patients, but also of their families and friends.

Rocket Scientist – Rocket scientists are the brains behind every space mission that has ever launched. Their work took men to the Moon, carried rovers to Mars, and put up every single communications satellite in orbit.



Brain Surgeon – The starting salary for a newly qualified doctor is about £23,000 a year in the UK, but a consultant surgeon can earn over £100,000. This includes working nights, weekends and on-call.

Rocket Scientist – The salary for an aerospace engineer starts at around £22,000 in the UK and can rise to over £60,000 with years of experience. The highest paid NASA engineers can earn over $150,000 (more than £120,000).

The defector

Few people can claim to have worked as both a doctor and a rocket scientist, but Hermann Oberth did just that. He was one of the first people ever to work on rocket science, and is hailed by NASA as one of the fathers of rocketry. But before that he was a World War I medic. His fascination with science began in his early teens, reading Jules Verne science fiction adventure novels while he recovered from scarlet fever.

When he returned from the war, he retrained as a physicist and mathematician and started to design rockets. His dream was to escape Earth’s gravity, and his books about travel in space, published in the 1920s, cover everything from multi-stage rockets to Moon landings and space stations. His medical background, combined with a bit of self experimentation, convinced him that humans could survive a journey out of this world, and after much theorizing, his rocket finally launched for real in 1931.

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