3.1.4 Human Versus Robotic Missions

Apparent support for human space exploration drops greatly when cost savings associated with robotic missions are mentioned. For example, the Gallup Organization in 2003 asked this: “Some people feel the U.S. space program should concentrate on unmanned missions like Voyager 2, which will 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?” Human space exploration was preferred over robotic missions by a margin of 52-37 percent (Gallup/CNN/USA Today 2/03). But in an AP-Ipsos poll the next year, which prefaced the question by stating that “some have suggested that space exploration on the Moon and Mars would be more affordable using robots than sending humans,” answers tilted heavily in the other direction—a preference for robots by a margin of 57-38 percent (AP/Ipsos 1/04).

Risk does not appear to play a central role as a reason not to send humans into space. Most of the public seems to accept that there are inherent dangers in exploring space. Public support for NASA and space exploration increased after the Challenger disaster. Shortly after the Columbia accident, a 2004 AP-Ipsos survey asked whether human spaceflight should be continued “in light of the space shuttle accident last February [2003] in which seven astronauts were killed,” and 73 percent said that the United States should continue to send humans into space (AP/Ipsos 1/04).

3.1.5 NASA’s Role, International Collaboration, and Commercial Firms

3.1.5.1 American Leadership and Cooperative Space Exploration

When asked in a 2011 Pew Research Center survey whether they thought that it was essential for the United States to “continue to be a world leader in space exploration,” 58 percent of the respondents said that it was essential (Pew 6/11). The percentage has fluctuated. A Time/Yankelovich poll in 1988 found that 49 percent of Americans thought it was “very important” for “this country to be the leading nation in space exploration” (Time/Yankelovich 1/88). Sixteen years later, in 2004, an AP-Ipsos poll found that 38 percent thought that it was important for the United States to be the leading nation in space (AP/Ipsos 1/04).

Although a majority of respondents in 2011 said that it was “essential for the United States to continue to be a world leader in space,” a July 2011 survey conducted by CNN/ORC found just 38 percent saying that it was “very important” for the United States “to be ahead of Russia in space exploration” (CNN/ORC 7/11). In a different era, a Gallup poll in June 1961 put that number at 51 percent (Gallup 6/61). In March 2006, Gallup asked this: “A number of Asian and European countries now have space programs of their own or have announced plans for space activities and exploration. As more countries embark on space programs, how concerned are you that the U.S. will lose its leadership in space?” (Gallup 3/06). In response, just 13 percent told Gallup that they were very concerned about the possibility, and only another 22 percent were somewhat concerned. In other measures on the topic, just 11 percent were “very concerned” that China would become the new leader in space exploration in a 2008 Gallup survey, and only another 21 percent were “somewhat concerned” (Gallup, 4/08). Two-thirds of the American public said that they would not be concerned to see this happen.

3.1.5.2 International Competition and Collaboration

Few recent surveys have explored international collaboration in depth, but the available data suggest that the public is generally in favor of it. Even in the late Cold War period of 1988, a survey by Time/Yankelovich found 71 percent of Americans saying that it would be a good idea for the United States and the Soviet Union to undertake cooperative space efforts, such as going to Mars (Time/Yankelovich 1/88). A Harris poll in July 1997 found 77 percent of the public saying that they favor “joint space missions involving Americans, Russians and people from other countries,” and 66 percent favored putting a joint U.S. and international space station in orbit (HI 7/97). A CBS survey later in 1997 found two-thirds of respondents saying that the United States should work with Russia on space missions (CBS 7/97). Finally, even when told in 2008 that the United States would have a



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