Americans Express Confidence in NASA

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Most say they are fairly confident agency can prevent another space shuttle disaster

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- NASA is preparing to launch the space shuttle Discovery on Wednesday, which would be the first space shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster in February 2003. A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds most Americans say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in NASA to prevent another such disaster. Nearly three in four Americans favor a continuation of the manned space shuttle program, and a majority believes NASA is moving at an appropriate pace in restarting it. A majority also evaluates NASA positively for the job it is doing overall.

The June 24-26 poll finds 74% of Americans saying the United States should continue the manned space shuttle program, while 21% disagree. Historically, Americans have supported the program, even in the immediate aftermath of the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. Gallup Polls conducted following those disasters showed 8 in 10 Americans favoring a continuation of the program.

Public support for the continuation of shuttle missions may be related to Americans' confidence that NASA can avoid another such disaster. The poll finds 76% saying they have either a great deal (20%) or fair amount (56%) of confidence in NASA to prevent a similar event. That's about the same level of confidence that Americans expressed after the two shuttle explosions in 1986 and 2003, although more Americans had a great deal of confidence in NASA in those polls than do currently.

An earlier CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted in late April and early May, found two in three Americans saying NASA is moving "at the right pace" in restarting the shuttle program, while 18% say "too quickly" and 10% say "too slowly." NASA had initially scheduled the Discovery launch for May, but postponed it to make some additional repairs.

NASA Viewed Positively Overall

At a more basic level, 53% of Americans say NASA is doing an "excellent" or "good" job. Thirty-four percent say "fair" and 6% say "poor." Those views have remained remarkably stable since 1999. NASA was rated significantly more positively in 1998 when it sent former Sen. John Glenn into space, and lower in 1993 when NASA "lost" the Mars Observer probe and was having trouble getting clear pictures from the Hubble telescope.

Ratings of NASA are fairly consistent by subgroup, with the main exception coming in terms of age. Sixty percent of Americans below age 50 say NASA is doing an excellent or good job, compared with just 43% of those aged 50 or older.

Mars Mission

While Americans express support for NASA in general and the space shuttle program in particular, they are apparently less likely to favor a mission to Mars, one of NASA's (and President George W. Bush's) future goals for space exploration. Fifty-eight percent say they oppose setting aside the money for an attempted Mars landing, while 40% are in favor.

Gallup asked the same question in 1999 and 1969 (immediately after the moon landing) and found similar results.

Men and women take very different views of funding a Mars landing. Men favor funding such a mission by 51% to 47%, but women oppose it by 68% to 29%. Additionally, 47% of adults under age 50 support the United States undertaking a mission to Mars, compared with just 31% of those aged 50 and older.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,009 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 24-26, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Now, turning to another subject,

6. How would you rate the job being done by NASA -- the U.S. space agency? Would you say it is doing an excellent, good, only fair, or poor job?

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Jun 24-26

11

42

34

6

7

2003 Sep 8-10

12

38

36

10

4

1999 Dec 9-12

13

40

31

12

4

1999 Jul 13-4

20

44

20

5

11

1998 Nov 20-22

26

50

17

4

3

1998 Jan 30-Feb 1

21

46

21

4

8

1994 Jul 15-17

14

43

29

6

8

1993 Dec 17-19

18

43

30

7

2

1993 Sept 13-15

7

36

35

11

11

1991 May 2-5

16

48

24

6

6

1990 July 19-22

10

36

34

15

5

7. Do you feel the U.S. should -- or should not -- continue the manned space shuttle program?


Should continue

Should not
continue

No opinion

2005 Jun 24-26

74%

21

5

Trends for Comparison:

2003: In light of the space shuttle disaster yesterday in which the seven astronauts were killed do you feel the U.S. should or should not continue the manned space shuttle program?

1986: In light of the space shuttle disaster in January (1986) in which the seven astronauts were killed, do you feel the U.S. should or should not continue the manned space shuttle program?

Should continue

Should not
continue

No opinion

2003 Feb 2 ^

82%

15

3

1986 Mar 7-10 †

80%

17

3

8. There has been much discussion about attempting to land an astronaut on the planet Mars. How would you feel about such an attempt -- would you favor or oppose the United States setting aside money for such a project?

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 Jun 24-26

40

58

2

1999 Jul 13-14

43

54

3

1969 Jul 24-29

39

53

8

9. As you may know, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart and was lost in an accident in February 2003. How much confidence do you have that NASA, the U.S. space agency, will be able to prevent accidents like this from happening in the future -- a great deal of confidence, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Not very
much

None
at all

No
opinion

2005 Jun 24-26

20%

56

18

5

1

Trends for Comparison: How much confidence do you have that NASA, the U.S. space agency, will be able to prevent accidents like this from happening in the future -- a great deal of confidence, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Not very
much

None
at all

No
opinion

2003 Feb 2

38%

44

11

6

1

1986 Mar 7-10 ^

38%

41

13

6

2

40. As you may know, NASA has scheduled a space shuttle launch for July, which would be the first launch since a space shuttle was lost in an accident in 2003. Do you think NASA is -- [ROTATED: moving too slowly in re-starting the space shuttle program, moving at the right pace, or is NASA moving too quickly in re-starting the space shuttle program]?

Too slowly

Right pace

Too quickly

No opinion

2005 Apr 29-May 1

10%

67

18

5

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