Space exploration began with John F. Kennedy’s urging for America to put a man on the moon in 1961. Thirty-nine years later, the International Space Station went into orbit, and with it, the goal of continuous human habitation in space.
The next series of NASA missions may see astronauts going to Mars. The past 54 years have been rich with research paper topics on the human exploration of space; what will the next half a century hold?
The collaboration behind the International Space Station
Before the International Space Station could serve as the home for humans beyond Earth, it had to be built. A total of 16 nations—Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States—joined together.
Since the International Space Station first went into orbit in 2000, humans have lived on it continuously. According to “International Space Station celebrates 15 years of human life in space” by Ben Brumfield on November 2, 2015, for CNN.com, two of the current residents, “NASA’s Scott Kelly and Roscosmos’ Mikhail Kornienko, are on a one-year mission to test the effects on the human body of long-term stays in space. The experiment is a precursor to sending people to Mars.” Research paper topics to consider about the International Space Station could include a look at the future of space exploration, particularly what, besides going to Mars, will be included in future NASA missions. You could also investigate some of the breakthroughs astronauts have achieved in the world’s only microgravity laboratory.
Future NASA missions
The final space shuttle launch from the United States occurred in July 2011. Since that time astronauts going to and from the International Space Station have done so courtesy of Russia, at an ever-increasing cost. One big reason NASA missions have faltered in recent years is due to budget issues according to Phil Plait in “Why NASA Still Can’t Put Humans in Space: Congress Is Starving It of Needed Funds” on Slate.com’s Bad Astronomy blog, August 24, 2015.
Plait wrote about how NASA’s program, Commercial Crew Development, was supposed to give commercial companies the chance to create American-manned vehicles back into space. “But over the past five years, Congress has consistently underfunded Commercial Crew, usually by several hundred million dollars every year, as much as 25 percent of the requested funds,” he explained. The relationship between the U.S. and Russia has been difficult in recent years as well, with Russia increasing the fees they charge to transport astronauts. Research paper topics could explore how this geopolitical situation has impacted relations between the two countries aboard the International Space Station, why has Congressional funding and support shifted or what are the general psychological (and physical) ramifications for people during extended stays in space.
The future of space exploration
The current contract between the United States and Russia for travel to the International Space Station will expire in 2016. Additionally, Russia has plans to launch its own space station in 2020. Future NASA missions must therefore come up with a new way to get into space. According to Joan Vernikos in “Can the US Regain Its Leadership in Space?” for the March 1, 2015, edition of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, this can happen if we do several things:
- Fund and utilize commercial space flight
- Create a plan for a mission to Mars, like previous NASA missions such as Gemini and Apollo
- Operate a “Mission to Mars organization that is separate from mainstream NASA, with 20-year acquisition support to execute this plan; NASA would remain the overall entity.”
What would be the business model for commercial space flight? What has lead to the decay in NASA missions—funding, fragmentation of teamwork or rivalries between NASA sites? How could NASA programs such as life support, radiation shielding or robotic precursor fact-finding missions potentially be beneficial to humankind? These are all possible research paper topics to explore.
Should the United States be focusing on more space exploration? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.