Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Opposite of Progress is ...

A poll released February 16 by the Monmouth University Polling Institute shows that a majority of Americans oppose the government spending billions on human deep spaceflight, but support private enterprise in space.

According to the press release:

NASA launched the initial test spaceship for its new Orion program two months ago. This is designed to be the first step toward long-range human exploration of space including potential interplanetary travel. Just over 4-in-10 (42%) Americans are in favor of the U.S. government spending billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids, while half (50%) oppose such an expenditure.

The specific question asked was, “Would you favor or oppose the U.S. government allocating billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids?”

The commercial space question asked was, “Do you think private companies and individuals should be able to build their own rockets to take people into space or do you think space travel should be left to national governments only?”

Monmouth concludes:

The future of space travel may now lie in private ventures, which most Americans do support. A number of entrepreneurs have already begun to sell seats on private space flights, although those efforts have been set back by the crash of a Virgin Galactic test run last October. Still, nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans say that private companies and individuals should be able to build their own rockets to take people into space. Another 37% feel that space travel should be restricted to national governments.

The poll apparently did not distinguish in respondents' minds between adventure tourism, such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR, and the commercial cargo/crew partnerships NASA has with SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital Sciences among others.

The press release notes:

A Harris Survey taken in July 1967 — two years before the successful Apollo 11 moon landing — found that only 34% of the public felt that the space program was worth its annual $4 billion price tag at the time while 54% said it wasn’t worth it. Also, the same 1967 poll found the public to be divided — 43% in favor to 46% opposed — over NASA’s drive to land an astronaut on the moon.

Former NASA chief historian Dr. Roger Launius in his 2003 monograph, Evolving Public Perceptions of Human Spaceflight in American Culture, wrote about the myth that a majority of Americans supported the Apollo program:

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a hundred times, “if NASA just had the popular support that it enjoyed during the 1960s all would be well.” Analyzing public opinion polling data in the United States from throughout the history of the space age, however, allows the plotting of trends during a long period of time. The trends reveal several interesting insights about the evolution of spaceflight. For example, most people believe that Project Apollo was enormously popular, but the polls do not support this contention. Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this being a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969. And consistently throughout the decade 45 to 60 percent of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space.

There's little evidence to suggest public opinion has changed.

As I wrote in January 2013, polls continue to show a majority of Americans oppose spending on a grandiose human spaceflight program — but they do support private spending.

A July 2011 CNN/ORC poll conducted at the end of the Space Shuttle program showed a majority of respondents wanted the private sector to “run the country's manned space missions in the future.” Image source: Roper Center.

This hasn't stopped Congress from demanding NASA spend less on privatization and more on human deep spaceflight programs that have no mission or destination, but do send pork to their districts and states.

As I wrote on February 14,, last week the House space subcommittee fast-tracked to the House floor a bill that would extend NASA reliance on Russia for International Space Station access through the end of the decade while forcing the agency to spend billions more on the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle — just the kind of government boondoggle polls show a majority of Americans oppose.

As the saying goes, the opposite of progress is Congress.

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