working with China for the betterment of the world. In any case, some speakers noted that a decision about how to engage China will not be based solely on space policy but will depend on much larger geopolitical considerations.

Several speakers posed questions such as these: What roles can international cooperation play in solutions to problems with the civil space program? Do we need a new paradigm for partnerships? Should international relationships be more central and more often on the critical path? Should the United States be more proactive? A frequent response was that international aspects cannot be ignored and that space activities offer a natural vehicle for establishing connectivity between nations, which in turn is an essential element of globalization and, therefore, a necessary priority of forward-looking nations.


During the session on national and international context and often in subsequent discussions, participants turned to an assessment of the degree of contemporary public interest and support for space exploration. Providing some historical perspective, speakers indicated that there was considerable public apathy during the Apollo program, with less than a majority of the public supporting sending people to the Moon. Instead, Apollo drew much of its strongest support from its links to political goals and priorities driven by the Cold War. Additional discussion centered on a longer-term problem: once we return to the Moon, it will “cost a lot to stay on the Moon,” and once we get to Mars, it will “cost a lot to stay on Mars.” In the case of Apollo, once we got to the Moon, we terminated the program.

One speaker described public support for space exploration as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and attributed some current public apathy to changes in public attitudes and expectations over the past decades. That is, people now have shorter attention spans and expect to have a more participative experience than is now offered by much of space exploration. This perspective was reinforced later in the workshop by citation of survey data that had been prepared for George Mason University,3 indicating that today the greatest degree of enthusiasm for human space exploration rests with the 45- to 64-year-old age group (the Apollo generation) but that support is weak in the 18- to 24-year-old age group. In contrast, other speakers argued that people do care about space and that members of the lay public respond especially to the “wow factor”—that is, programs such as the Hubble Space Telescope and Mars exploration do capture public interest and support. However, a speaker commented that if the NASA budget is not viewed to be particularly large, the need to have a “wow” factor to sustain public support becomes less important. Speakers also noted that the level of excitement over space exploration appears to be much higher in countries abroad than inside the United States.

The workshop discussions drew out several competing views about what aspects of space exploration are most relevant and effective in engaging public interest. Participants discussed whether factors that were important in the past remain so today or whether new arguments and attributes will be more important as the country looks to the future. These ideas were explored in more detail in later sessions. (See Chapter 3.)


M.L. Dittmar, Engaging the 18-25 Generation: Educational Outreach, Interactive Technologies, and Space, Dittmar Associates, Inc., available at

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement