Sixty percent of Americans are willing to spend what it takes to build a new type of manned spaceship to replace the aging shuttle, according to a new poll.
Despite the Columbia disaster and a highly critical report released last week by the accident’s investigators, public support for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration remains high. The survey by the Orlando Sentinel found that 81% of Americans consider space exploration very important or somewhat important to the country’s future.
That’s a 7-point increase from a February 2002 survey -- and a 6-point increase from a poll taken immediately after the Columbia broke up over Texas on Feb. 1. Washington-based Ipsos-Public Affairs conducted all three national polls for the Sentinel.
The new poll also found Americans are prepared to support NASA with their pocketbooks. Besides their willingness to pay for a new manned spacecraft, 73% of respondents want to increase the agency’s funding or at least keep it at the present level of roughly $15 billion a year. Those saying NASA deserves more money jumped to 29% -- the highest level in a decade -- up from 9% in February 2002.
“The support for the program is unshaken,” said Thomas Riehle, president of Ipsos, an international survey research firm. “It is as strong as ever, even in the aftermath of the event and the report. It’s in our blood as Americans.”
Public support for space exploration could prove crucial as Congress begins hearings this week to examine the future of the shuttle program. Besides helping determine the path for the shuttle fleet’s return to flight -- which NASA has tentatively scheduled for next spring -- the hearings could influence the direction and funding of U.S. human spaceflight for years to come.