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Public Opinion About Space Exploration - Nasa Woos The American Public

television spacecraft web program

NASA employs a number of public relations tools designed to interest and excite people about space travel. Since its inception the agency has recognized that public support is crucial to fostering a successful long-term space program.


Throughout the Space Age NASA has used television as a publicity tool to try to spark greater interest in the space program. Television turned out to be one of the greatest public relations tools of the Apollo program. In 1968 the Apollo 7 astronauts conducted the first live television interview from space. All of the remaining Apollo flights carried television cameras. The worldwide television audience for the Apollo 11 moon landing was estimated at half a billion people.

In July 1999 the Gallup Organization polled Americans about their memories of the first manned lunar landing by Apollo 11. The survey found that 76% of people aged thirty-five and up claimed to have watched the event on television as it happened.

NASA's Web Site

NASA operates one of the most colorful and elaborate Web sites of any federal agency ( It includes thousands of mission photographs and millions of documents related to the nation's space endeavors. The Web site provides detailed information about NASA facilities, programs, and missions. There are a variety of multimedia features, including interactive displays, video and audio downloads, and spectacular images of Earth and space captured by NASA spacecraft. Enormous FIGURE 9.7 Public opinion poll on benefits from the space program, 2004 Adapted from Darren K. Carlson, "The Quality of Our Daily Lives Has Benefited from the Knowledge and Technology that Have Come from Our Nation's Space Program," in Space: To Infinity and Beyond on a Budget, The Gallup Organization, August 17, 2004, (accessed December 28, 2005). Copyright © 2004 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.historical archives that include documentation dating back to the earliest days of space travel are available online.

According to NASA, the Web site is visited millions of times each day. The number of "hits" increases dramatically during highly publicized missions. For example, NASA reported receiving 6.53 billion hits between January 4, 2004, and February 19, 2004. This period of time coincides with the highly successful landings of the Mars Exploration rovers on Mars.


One of the ways that NASA tries to engage public interest in space travel is by posting sighting opportunities for its satellites, particularly the International Space Station (ISS) and any ongoing shuttle missions. The NASA Web site instructs people how and where to look in the nighttime sky to see the spacecraft as it is passing overhead. Figure 9.8 shows a set of instructions for viewing the ISS at a particular location, assuming that skies are clear enough.

The listing identifies the exact date and time at which the ISS should become visible to observers on the ground and how long it will remain visible. It also gives information about the station's location in the sky based on direction (north, south, east, or west) and angle of elevation compared to the horizon. A spacecraft flying directly overhead would be at 90° maximum elevation.

In the example shown the ISS is to first appear in the west-southwest (WSW) direction approximately 10° FIGURE 9.8 Interpreting spacecraft sighting data "Interpreting the Data," in Sighting Opportunities, National Aeronautics and Space administration, April 17, 2003, Http:// (accessed January 31, 2006)above the horizon. It will then climb to a maximum elevation of 66° above the horizon and travel out of sight heading toward the northeast (NE). It should disappear from view about 31° above the horizon. This progression is illustrated in the diagram at the top of Figure 9.8.

NASA says that a spacecraft looks like "a steady white pinpoint of light moving slowly across the sky." Viewers are urged to observe spacecraft with the naked eye or through binoculars. The speed at which spacecraft move makes telescope viewing impractical.

NASA's Web site provides links to sighting data for hundreds of cities around the world. People at locations not listed can use an applet (a small application program) called SkyWatch to enter their latitude and longitude and receive viewing information for numerous orbiting satellites.

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