Research topic: So you want to be an astronaut?

It’s been 54 years since American astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. But while the space program has had its ups and downs over the last several years, with changes in privatized space travel bringing in companies like the Sierra Nevada Corp to bring cargo to and take it away from the International Space Station, the idea of space travel remains a dream for many.

T.J. O’Malley, astronaut John Glenn and Paul Donnelly in front of the Friendship 7, 1962. (Credit: NASA)

T.J. O’Malley, astronaut John Glenn and Paul Donnelly in front of the Friendship 7, 1962. (Credit: NASA)

So many, in fact, that NASA was shocked by the number of astronaut applications it received when it opened a call for its next class of astronauts. If you are looking for good research paper topics on space travel, the space program, or the privatization of the space industry, consider looking at these research paper topics.

How to become an astronaut

NASA opened its application process for the next class of astronauts in December 2015. When it closed the application window on February 18, NASA had received a record-breaking number of applications. In 1978, the last record year for applications, NASA received 8,000 applicants. This year, 18,300 applicants applied for between eight and 14 open positions. “That means the acceptance rate will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.5 percent, compared to a 6 percent rate for Harvard,” pointed out Alan Boyle of Geek Wire in the February 20, 2016, article “18,300 applicants face 1-in-2000 chance of being picked for astronaut job at NASA.”

Why was there so much excitement for the class of 2017 astronauts, who will, after they are selected, begin their training in mid-2017? A research paper could investigate the causes of the upswing in interest, looking at the positive media with films such as The Martian contributing to social consciousness. It could be because these astronauts may be among the first to fly beyond Earth’s orbit on NASA’s Orion sometime in the 2020s. After that, NASA is making eyes at Mars. It may also have helped that NASA’s social media presence and the #BeAnAstronaut campaign reached potential applicants that may not otherwise have realized the opportunity was available.

What does it take to be an astronaut? NASA’s press release listed the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Major in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics
  • Advanced degree desirable
  • Three years related experience or 1,000 pilot-in-command hours
  • Ability to pass a long-duration physical

If you’ve got what it takes, keep an eye out over the next few years; the call prior to this one was in 2013, so in a couple of years, they may be looking for a new class of astronauts.

Privatized space travel

“Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work ‘with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,’ that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station,” NASA administrator Chris Bolden was quoted as saying in a January 2, 2016, article for the Christian Science Monitor by Lucy Schouten, “What’s Different about NASA’s New Plan for Space Station Deliveries?” Contracts between NASA and three major companies–SpaceX, Orbital and Sierra Nevada Corp–are signed through 2024 for deliveries to and from the International Space Station.

While many of the rockets designed by these companies are intended to be reusable, the cargo ship Cygnus, which, full of trash from the International Space Station, was released into Earth’s atmosphere on February 19, 2016, is expected to be incinerated along with its contents. A good research paper topic could be to look at how supplies get to and from the International Space Station, as well as the hurdles the private companies have had to overcome.

John Glenn

Looking at the past can always give researchers a clue about the future, and the anniversary of John Glenn’s historic orbiting of the earth on February 20 is a prime time to look into the biography of that early astronaut. As one of the Mercury 7 test pilots selected to become part of NASA in 1959, he had a reputation as one of the best test pilots in the United States. In 1962, having to give up automatic controls after the yaw attitude jet clogged, Glenn made his historic orbit around the earth under the manual system. He circled the globe three times in just under five hours. You can find out more about John Glenn in articles available by searching Questia.

For more good research paper topics on Space Exploration, browse the library at Questia. 

What intrigues you most about becoming an astronaut? Tell us in the comments.

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