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Public Opinion About Space Exploration - Should Space Travel Be A National Priority?

gallup budget program poll

History shows that space travel was a national priority during the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were convinced that putting a man on the Moon was vital to American political interests during the Cold War. They convinced Congress to devote billions of dollars to the effort. At the time, the public was not very enthusiastic about the idea. According to the Gallup Organization, most polls they conducted during the 1960s showed that less than 50% of Americans considered the endeavor worth the cost.

In 1967 civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., said "Without denying the value of scientific endeavor, there is a striking absurdity in committing billions to reach the moon where no people live, while only a fraction of that amount is appropriated to service the densely populated slums." King's sentiment sums up very well a moral question that has plagued the space program since its inception. Is it right for a nation to spend its money on space travel while there are people suffering on Earth?

NASA would argue that its budget comprises only a tiny fraction of the nation's total spending. Figure 2.1 in FIGURE 9.2 Public opinion poll on interest in the space program, 2004 Adapted from Darren K. Carlson, "Space: Who Cares?" in Space: To Infinity and Beyond on a Budget, The Gallup Organization, August 17, 2004, http://poll.gallup.com/content/default.aspx?ci=12727 (accessed December 28, 2005). Copyright © 2004 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.Chapter 2 shows that in 2005 NASA received less than 1% of the federal budget and has been near this level since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.

In June and July 2004 Gallup asked 1,000 adults their thoughts about government spending on space exploration. Poll participants were reminded that NASA's budget request for the next year would be less than 1% of the federal budget and would amount to an average of approximately $55 per taxpayer. In response, 37% said that NASA's budget should remain at its current level, while 26% thought it should be increased. Another 23% thought NASA's budget should be decreased, and 13% wanted no NASA funding at all. (See Figure 9.4.)

Gallup has been asking this same poll question since 1984. The percentage of people wanting to increase NASA's budget has varied between 10% and 27% over time. Consistently, the largest group of people (37% to 51%) has advocated maintaining the agency's budget at its existing level.

There are many programs competing for funding in the federal budget. During a 2003 survey, Gallup asked poll participants if money should be taken away from the space program and devoted to other programs instead. The answers varied widely, depending on the program against which space travel was paired.

The largest number of respondents (74%) would transfer money from the space program to increase funding FIGURE 9.3 Public opinion poll on what drives American space exploration, 2004 Adapted from Darren K. Carlson, "Why Do We Explore?" in Space: To Infinity and Beyond on a Budget, The Gallup Organization, August 17, 2004, http://poll.gallup.com/content/default.aspx?ci=12727 (accessed December 28, 2005). Copyright © 2004 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.for healthcare. National defense was also a pressing priority, with 60% of those asked willing to take money away from the space program for national defense. Only 38% of poll participants wanted to increase funding for the nation's welfare program at the expense of the space program.

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