Is NASA Still Needed? Research Paper

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¶ … National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has provided the United States with some of the most captivating moments in our nation's history. It has inspired generations of bright minds to think beyond the confines of the planet we live on. It has expanded our knowledge of the known universe, and through that knowledge, has imparted to us a deeper understanding of the planet we live on.

As a race, we would only know a fraction of what we know about the universe if it were not for NASA. We would not be able to predict natural disasters, broadcast information to remote areas, or talk on cell phones. However, the real value of NASA extends far beyond small conveniences. In the period before NASA, the human race had developed the ability to destroy the earth but not the ability to leave it. It was a depressing time for all who lived through it, and NASA provided many a source of hope that was beyond the reach of man-made weapons. The discoveries in space gave the human race a long-term goal worth striving for. This pursuit has driven U.S. technological dominance for the past half-century,

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However, for some people in the world, NASA seems to have outgrown its usefulness. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been no "space race" to pressure U.S. politicians into funding expensive space expeditions. Thus, it is harder now to justify huge government spending on space exploration when politicians are no longer in a rush to explore space. This reality, coupled with a pattern of recent cost overruns and project delays at NASA, have led some to question the very need for NASA. (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d911bd8a-322d-11df-b4e2-00144feabdc0.html)

Research Paper on Is NASA Still Needed? Assignment

The economic argument against NASA is tempting, especially considering the difficult financial situation the nation is now facing. However, these financial problems can be solved with better management and financial planning. To cancel what might be one of the most important organizations management would be foolish and dangerous. This is not to say that the U.S. government should allow NASA to continue its inefficiencies, but any policy towards NASA should be crafted to preserve the essential mission that NASA is carrying out for the human race.

The U.S. government can preserve NASA's essential mission while controlling program costs by involving the new partners and using newer, more cost-efficient technologies.

II. History of NASA creation

The NASA program began on July 29, 1958 by the order of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. President Eisenhower was responding to his Cold War rival's space achievements a year earlier. In 1957, the Russians successfully launched the first satellite into space: the Sputnik. The Americans were caught by surprise, as few would have guessed that the Russians were that far ahead of the U.S. In aeronautic capabilities. Though the Americans were planning space exploration projects at the time, it took a hostile threat to get American politicians to commit the type of funding required for true breakthroughs. From this moment, the space race was on.

The next president, John F. Kennedy, was also wary of the U.S.S.R. This paranoia might have played a part in his challenge to NASA, which doubled as a promise to America, to land a man on the moon before the decade was out. (http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/features/jfk_speech.html>)

This challenge gave NASA a mandate to do whatever was necessary to land a man on the moon. The result was the golden age of space exploration.

III. The Achievements of NASA

A. Human Space flight missions

NASA's mission statement is "To improve life here, To extend life to there, To find life beyond." (NASA. 12 April 2010. ) Because of the inability of unmanned spacecraft to react to unexpected obstacles and opportunities, NASA was already making plans to send human beings into space during its first year of operation.

The first manned aircraft in space was Project Mercury in 1961, which was able to stay up for a total of 15 minutes. 4 years later, NASA launched the Gemini 3, which was able to say in orbit for a total of 88.3 minutes, a considerable improvement over the Mercury. Most important of all, it demonstrated to NASA that a flight to the moon was very much a possibility. (On the Shoulders of Giants: A History Project of Gemini. 2009. 12 April 2010. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4203/toc.htm)

B. Missions to the Moon and planets

The most important milestone for NASA at the time was a landing on the moon. Earlier experiments were merely a way to determine the feasibility of this particular mission. It was symbolic not only because it, but because of JFK's earlier challenge NASA to put a man on the moon before the decade was out.

Few believed JFK when he promised a man on the moon before any human being had actually travelled into space. Perhaps, he did not actually believe it himself. However, NASA demonstrated that it was capable of truly otherworldly feats if given the proper political and financial support. NASA did put a man on the moon, actually two, and put a TV camera on the moon for America, and the U.S.S.R., to watch.

C. Remote-Sensing and Applications satellites:

Considering the Satellite was the first type of spacecraft launched into space, it has remained remarkably useful as engineers continue to find new applications for it. The first satellites were meant to enhance telecommunications on earth. Over the years, satellites have been adapted to monitor the weather, track objects through GPS, and even shoot down approaching enemy warheads. The list will continue to grow as demand for telecommunications becomes the norm and earthlings recognize less and less boundaries.

As much as NASA satellites have made life convenient, NASA is still at heart an exploration-focused organization. It reaffirmed this mission with the release of the Hubble Telescope in 1990. The Hubble Telescope as a space-based telescope that allowed scientists to peer into deep space and has proved to be a valuable research tool. At the cost of $2 billion, it has done as much as for space exploration that any project during the last 20 years, proving that NASA can accomplish impressive feats without enormous outlays.

D. Research Missions

After the moon, the most attractive sphere in the galaxy is Mars. It is the logical next frontier for NASA and NASA took an interesting approach to Mars. NASA decided to enter Mars for the first time in 1996 with an unmanned probe called the Mars Pathfinder. It gave us our first up-close shots of the Martian terrain and atmosphere, feeding live video right into our TVs. Best of all, NASA only spent $280 million, proving yet again that it could be successful without spending a huge amount of money.

E. Establishing permanent human presence in space

The next big milestone for NASA will be to establish an actual research facility in space. It is now constructing the International Space Station with the cooperation of Russia, the E.U., Japan, and Canada. Set to go online in 2012, the ISS will be serve not only as a hub for smaller spacecraft, but will actually veer into space for exploration as well, according to Mike Griffin of NASA. (18, Jan. 2007. http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/home/griffin_why_explore.html)

IV. Problems with NASA

A. Technical issues / schedule delays

NASA's history has not been all glory and success. It has met with grave tragedies such as the Challenger and the Columbia. However, the mistakes which are hurting NASA the most right now are really the small mistakes. Technical issues have become more prevalent since the early 1990s, causing delays in several important projects. Minor oversights such as a malfunctioning drain valve have delayed billion dollar projects. (http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1744039/nasa_again_delays_space_shuttle_launch/)

It is clear that the day-to-day operations at NASA are not up to par with the ambitious big picture it has conceived for the next two decades. The fact that the problems are minor is somewhat disturbing, but it also indicate that the problems will be easy to resolve. It is just an issue of putting the right procedures and checks in place.

B. Cost Overruns

Cost overruns have also delayed NASA projects, while frustrating stakeholders in the process. The most dramatic cost overrun victim, by virtue of its promise as well as its $300 million shortfall, was the newest Mars "rover." In an attempt to continue the successes of the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Rover, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Cal Tech embarked on a $1.5 billion project which inexplicably ballooned to $1.8 billion and is now in Limbo. ()

C. Lack of new technology

NASA has been guilty of sending out too many missions and not doing enough homework. The funds were allocated to spectacles meant to impress the public instead of the research and development efforts that will actually bring us closer to our goals in space. The low point was during the Bush Administration, where President Bush committed NASA to a number of unremarkable projects. Two of them were proposed to as a political ploy after the Columbia Shuttle disaster in 2003.

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