Support for NASA Shuttle Flights Remains Firm

by David W. Moore

Three in four Americans want funding levels maintained or increased

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted a week after the shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry into earth's atmosphere finds that Americans continue to give widespread support to the NASA program. Support for funding is actually somewhat higher than what was measured 3 years ago, and a slim majority of Americans favor a continued focus on manned rather than unmanned missions. The poll also shows that about 3 in 10 Americans would themselves like to take a space shuttle flight sometime in the future, slightly fewer than wanted to be a shuttle passenger 12 years ago.

The poll, conducted Feb. 7-9, finds that 25% of Americans would like funding for the U.S. space program increased and another 49% would like it maintained at current levels. About one in four Americans (24%) prefer decreased spending, including 7% who say spending should be ended altogether.

Now I'd like to ask you about government spending on NASA. In answering, please bear in mind that sooner or later all government spending has to be taken out of the taxes that you and other Americans pay. Do you think spending on the U.S. space program should be increased, kept at the present level, reduced, or ended altogether?

When last asked this question in December 1999, about a third of Americans, 34%, favored lower spending levels, with 10% opting for termination. Still, 65% favored either maintaining current spending (49%) or increasing it (16%). The current results are similar to those found after the Challenger disaster in January 1986, when 26% favored increased spending and 50% said spending should continue at the current levels.

After the crash of the shuttle Columbia, many critics argued that the NASA space program was wasting money and lives by focusing on manned flight, when unmanned missions were more cost-effective and did not put human lives in danger. But this argument has not been widely discussed in the news, and for the most part, Americans lean more to what NASA has been doing. By 52% to 37%, Americans prefer NASA's focus on manned rather than unmanned missions, not much changed from a reading in November 1998.

Some people feel the U.S. space program should concentrate on unmanned missions like Voyager 2, which send back information from space. Others say the U.S. should concentrate on maintaining a manned space program like the space shuttle. Which comes closer to your view?

Women Less Supportive Than Men

The current poll shows that women tend to be less supportive of NASA in general, and of the manned space missions, than are men. While men support increasing over decreasing spending for NASA by 31% to 21%, women take the opposite tack by 28% to 19%. For both groups, about half say spending should remain the same.

Opinion of NASA Spending: By Gender
Feb. 7-9, 2003

Similarly, women are more likely to prefer the unmanned over manned space missions. That difference is due primarily to older women, among whom a majority prefers the unmanned missions. Majorities of younger women and of both younger and older men opt for the manned missions.

Preference for Manned or Unmanned:
By Age and Gender
Feb. 7-9, 2003

Want a Ride on the Space Shuttle?

Apart from what NASA should be doing and how much money should be spent on the space program, the poll finds that about 3 in 10 Americans would like to take a space shuttle flight at some time in the future. This number is just slightly below the 34% who expressed this desire in 1991, and the 38% who said that shortly following the 1986 Challenger explosion.

Men are much more likely than women to want such an adventure, as are younger more than older people.

Desire to Take Shuttle Flight:
By Age and Gender
Feb. 7-9, 2003

Both younger and older men are more likely to say they want to take a flight than are the comparable groups of women. But clearly, as people get older, the appeal of space flight diminishes -- despite the fact that former Senator John Glenn was a crew member on a shuttle flight in 1998 at age 77.

Survey Methods

The latest results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 7-9, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error 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 I'd like to ask you about government spending on NASA. In answering, please bear in mind that sooner or later all government spending has to be taken out of the taxes that you and other Americans pay. Do you think spending on the U.S. space program should be increased, kept at the present level, reduced, or ended altogether?

 

Increased

Current
levels

Decreased

Ended
alto-
gether

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 7-9

25

49

17

7

2

1999 Dec 9-12

16

49

24

10

1

1999 Jul 13-14

18

45

26

8

3

1998 Nov 20-22

21

47

26

4

2

1993 Dec 17-19

11

42

38

8

1

1993 Sep 13-15

9

37

41

10

3

1991 May 2-5

21

44

28

3

4

1989 Jul 6-9

27

42

22

4

5

1986 Jan 29-30

26

50

14

5

5

1984 Jan 30-Feb 6

21

48

23

5

4



Some people feel the U.S. space program should concentrate on unmanned missions like Voyager 2, which send back information from space. Others say the U.S. should concentrate on maintaining a manned space program like the space shuttle. Which comes closer to your view?

 


Unmanned


Manned

BOTH
(vol.)

NEITHER (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Feb 7-9

37

52

7

--

4

1998 Nov 20-22

32

52

6

4

6

1991 May 2-5

39

49

--

--

12

1990 Jul 19-22

34

48

6

--

12

1989 Jul 6-9

40

43

9

--

8

(vol.) Volunteered response



Would you, yourself, like to be a passenger on a space shuttle flight sometime in the future?

 

Yes, would

No, would not

No opinion

%

%

%

2003 Feb 7-9

31

69

*

1991 May 2-5

34

65

1

1986 Mar 7-10

38

61

1

* Less than 0.5%



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