Pew Research Center Publish the results In a new public survey on Thursday, the 54th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The poll assessed Americans’ attitudes toward space exploration and space policy issues.
Similar to five years ago, the poll found that Americans are broadly supportive of the national space agency, NASA. Three-quarters of respondents had a favorable opinion of NASA, compared to just 9 percent with an unfavorable opinion.
However, as many previous surveys have found, the public has very different priorities for NASA than those expressed in the space agency’s budget. In this new report, based on a large survey of 10,329 American adults, the highest support came for “monitoring asteroids and other objects that could strike Earth” (60 percent) and “monitoring major parts of Earth’s climate system” (50 percent). . Sending astronauts to the moon (12 percent) and Mars (11 percent) lagged far behind respondents’ top priorities.
Additionally, support for deep space exploration by humans has been particularly low among women. Only 9 percent of the respondents mentioned sending humans to the Moon as a “top priority” for NASA, and 7 percent of women said the same about sending humans to Mars.
These priorities stand in stark contrast to the money NASA is already spending on exploration. In fiscal year 2024, for example, NASA asked Congress for $210 million to continue developing the Near-Earth Object Surveyor mission. Scheduled for launch in 2028, this planetary defense mission will detect, track and characterize collision risks from asteroids and comets. NASA also proposes spending about $2.5 million on Earth science missions.
Meanwhile, the space agency has requested about $8 billion to fund ongoing Artemis program missions next year, including rockets, spacecraft and landers, to allow a human landing on the Moon later this decade. NASA officials say the Artemis program will allow the agency to learn the skills and technologies that will eventually allow astronauts to fly to Mars in the 2030s or 2040s.
Protect the planet
Despite this disparity, NASA has stepped up its planetary defense activities. Less than a decade ago, the space agency spent less than $50 million annually detecting and tracking potentially hazardous asteroids, issuing notifications and warnings of potential impacts and taking the lead in coordinating planning and response across US government agencies.
The agency, in coordination with the European Space Agency, took a notable step forward in November 2021 with the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, which intercepted a near-Earth asteroid and then collided with a small asteroid in 2022. This demonstrated the ability of NASA to deflect an incoming asteroid if it was hit. Find a threatened object.
Overall, the results of the survey reinforce this notion that while public support for NASA is fairly broad, it does not run that deep, especially for human space exploration. And where NASA spends the majority of its funding is where the public – in the polls at least – seems least interested. So what does this mean for space policy?
For a long time after the Apollo program, leaders of NASA and space policy lived with the hope of seeing another era of big-budget support for space exploration. In the 1960s, NASA’s budget peaked at about 5 percent of federal spending. Now it’s about 0.5 percent. If NASA’s budget was going to double or triple, space fans would say, think of all the cool things we could accomplish.
But those days will never return. The American public loves having NASA and astronauts and seeing cool things happen in space. But in general, their priorities are more grounded. As Phil Larson, principal space policy officer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, told me a few years ago, “The vast majority of the public thinks we should have a space program that saves the Earth.”
To its credit, NASA, the space agency has finally acknowledged this. Instead of shooting for the Moon on a much larger budget, it has boosted the commercial space industry. Through public-private partnerships for lunar landers, space suits, and other activities, NASA has begun to fit plans for deep space exploration within the current budget it receives from the federal government. It also prioritized landing the “first woman on the moon” the next time humans go there. Perhaps that will win broader support for lunar exploration in future surveys.
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