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Majority Wants Space Flights Halted Until Goals Set
Houston Chronicle ^ | July 20, 2003, 9:47AM | TONY FREEMANTLE and MIKE TOLSON

Posted on 07/21/2003 1:08:04 PM PDT by anymouse

Americans remain strongly supportive of NASA and committed to the nation's manned space program in the wake of the Columbia tragedy, but a majority in a poll commissioned by the Houston Chronicle believes the shuttles should be grounded until the future of the space program has been redefined.

The nationwide poll by Zogby International, conducted between June 27 and July 2, confirms what space policy experts have known since the Apollo moon expeditions, that despite the risks and costs, enough Americans want to continue sending humans into space to make ending the practice politically unfeasible.

More than two-thirds of the 800 respondents said NASA was doing an excellent or good job of directing the nation's space program, and an overwhelming majority, 83 percent, said they thought it was important to the country's international prestige to have humans flying in space.

"Support for a manned space program has always been strong, and no president has been willing to cancel it," said Roger Launius, a historian with the National Air and Space Museum and former senior NASA historian. "It is a consensus that lasts in this nation. This poll confirms that, and no elected officials are going to challenge that."

Broadly speaking, the poll reflects a nation that strongly supports the space program, follows what it does fairly closely, is somewhat ambivalent about spending more money on it and is almost evenly split on whether the space shuttle fleet is too old, too risky and too expensive to keep operating. However, more than two-thirds of the nation believe the benefits to be gained by manned shuttle flights outweigh the risks and expenses involved.

Given this level of support for the program, Launius, who has closely followed the history of public opinion on the subject, said it was somewhat surprising that a majority of the respondents believe that the three remaining space shuttles should not resume flights until the goals of the nation's space program are redefined.

Fifty-four percent of those polled said the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, whose report on the disaster is expected next month, should not focus solely on its cause but should take a broader look at the direction the space program is going. Forty-three percent said the board should focus narrowly on the cause of the accident, fix the problems and get back to flying as quickly as possible.

"This is interesting," said Howard McCurdy, a space policy expert and historian at American University. "What I am seeing here is that the public is prepared for a turn in policy. A politician would look at these numbers and say that it seems the public is ready for a shift."

Whether that perception translates into action remains to be seen, McCurdy said. But two of the three elements necessary for that to happen -- the accident itself and a public willingness to accept a change in direction -- are in place. Leadership, the third element, has yet to emerge.

A surprising 88 percent of respondents said that when Columbia broke apart trying to return to Earth on the morning of Feb. 1 they were aware the shuttle was in space. Sixty-five percent said they generally follow shuttle missions very or somewhat closely. Fifty-eight percent said they knew there were U.S. spacecraft currently in orbit around Earth or on missions to other planets, but a majority of these respondents could not name one.

"These are a little higher than I have seen," McCurdy said. "That tells me that either these people are better informed about the space program than we've seen, or that the public in general is better informed than we thought."

With regard to what the priorities should be for the nation's manned space program, Launius said the poll is almost a mirror image of what NASA itself sees as its short- and long-term mission. Forty percent of those questioned said that building a new vehicle to replace the aging space shuttles should be NASA's top priority, 30 percent said it should be finishing the international space station, 10 percent said NASA must establish a base on the moon, and 9 percent said going to Mars should be the priority.

Half of those polled said the top priority for the space program in general should be to conduct basic research on our solar system and the universe.

When it comes to paying for any of this, however, the public appears a little less bullish, as it has consistently been since the Apollo missions to the moon. Only 32 percent of respondents said that NASA's budget, which at $15 billion per year is currently less than 1 percent of the entire federal budget, should be increased. This is slightly higher than normal but is statistically in line with polls taken over the last 30 years.

When asked what percentage of the federal budget is spent on space, only 20 percent said less than 1 percent.

"There is and always has been a striking discrepancy between what the public thinks is being spent on space and what actually is spent," said Launius. "There's a large group of people out there that think that NASA is costing a lot of money."

Launius said the 1 percent of the federal budget spent on space historically is the "comfort level" for both the public and its elected officials.

"There doesn't seem to be large clamoring for it to go below that, nor is there much clamoring to go above that," Launius said.

While the poll shows that there is overwhelming support for continuing the manned space program, there does not appear to be much agreement on what humans should be doing in space. Fifty-two percent of those polled said the nation should return to the moon and establish a base there, and 45 percent said it was important for the United States to be the first nation to land a person on Mars.

Being the first nation to land a person on the moon and bring him back, something that was accomplished 34 years ago, still reigns supreme in the mind of the public as NASA's greatest achievement, with 35 percent saying they think it was the nation's crowning glory.

The next greatest achievement, according to those polled, was the Hubble Space Telescope. The safe return to Earth of the crippled Apollo 13 mission to the moon came in third. Only 10 percent thought the space shuttle was worth crowing about.

"From this we see very clearly what we know to be true," McCurdy said. "The space shuttle is not considered one of NASA's greatest achievements."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Technical
KEYWORDS: columbia; goliath; nasa; public; shuttle; space; sts107
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Some deceptive polling to support the author's bias.
1 posted on 07/21/2003 1:08:04 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: *Space
Space ping.
2 posted on 07/21/2003 1:08:22 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: anymouse
A sample group of only 800 is not sufficient to be accurate and we could question selection of respondents. There isn't much doubt that this is a phony survey. There are many people including myself who think the program is a luxury we cannot afford and the best thing would be to close it down permanently.
3 posted on 07/21/2003 1:13:37 PM PDT by henderson field
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To: anymouse
I am thoroughly, absolutely supportive of maintaining and expanding the space exploration program. However, I agree not only with grounding the space shuttle fleet but reorganizing NASA altogether in the process of articulating clearly defined mission objectives. Placing colonies in near-Earth space and/or celestial bodies - sooner rather than later - should be the ultimate, systematic goal IMHO.
4 posted on 07/21/2003 1:18:27 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: anymouse
I would also strongly support efforts to disseminate/encourage technology in the course of stimulating private sector space exploration/exploitation endeavors.
5 posted on 07/21/2003 1:21:36 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: AntiGuv
The best way to improve human space flight is to make it profitable....
6 posted on 07/21/2003 1:22:27 PM PDT by Lunatic Fringe (When news breaks, we fix it.)
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To: anymouse

"This just in. Zogby's latest Manipulation Poll purports that Americans want to give up to al Qaeda,
want to dismantle NASA, and change the Constitution and country to an Islamic Caliphate Society run from Iran.
Zogby claims to have learned this based upon his poll of his entire extended family and more than 80 murderous terrorists,
20 fifth-columnists and traitors at the "US" State Dept."

7 posted on 07/21/2003 1:23:58 PM PDT by Diogenesis (If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us)
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To: AntiGuv
Many people fail to remember that one of the reasons the Shuttle was developed was to service a future space station. Sure, it flew around for years waiting for the ISS to come to be, but it was at the time (and still may be) the most feasble way to get back and forth.

I don't know what is left to transport to the ISS as far as modules go, but if they have to redesign those in order to use a different delivery system, then you'll REALLY hear people whine and complain about costs.

8 posted on 07/21/2003 1:31:36 PM PDT by Normal4me
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To: Normal4me
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft are more than sufficient for servicing the ISS during whatever interim when the space shuttle program gets redesigned or superceded. What we really need is nuclear propulsion, which President Bush was widely reported considering to declare as a NASA initiative during his State of the Union but deferred for whatever reason.
9 posted on 07/21/2003 1:38:17 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Normal4me
Sure, it flew around for years waiting for the ISS to come to be, but it was at the time (and still may be) the most feasble way to get back and forth.

The shuttle is a political bastard. Everybody wanted to screw around, but no one wanted to commit. That is the history of the space program since apollo in a nutshell.

Congress doesn't want to shut NASA down and appear pessimistic, nor do they want to fund NASA as NASA wants and appear irresponsible. NASA can't conceive of doing anything without an army of bureaucrats driving up the costs beyond what Congress will fund.

If congress asked NASA to build an outhouse they would need 100 bureaucrats just to get started, and 200 to maintain the thing when they were done.

10 posted on 07/21/2003 1:41:11 PM PDT by hopespringseternal
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To: AntiGuv
President Bush was widely reported considering to declare as a NASA initiative during his State of the Union but deferred for whatever reason.

Probably because NASA would just embarass him with a trillion dollar estimate the same way they did his father.

11 posted on 07/21/2003 1:42:19 PM PDT by hopespringseternal
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To: hopespringseternal
Lol...so true. I worked there at one time (not for NASA) and had to wait seven hours to simply connect a spring loaded ground clamp to a rail car. Seven people to watch and verify I did it right....bwhahaha.
12 posted on 07/21/2003 1:50:24 PM PDT by Normal4me
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To: hopespringseternal
To be sure, I have little but contempt for the cumbersome, redundant NASA bureaucracy, which is why I support a comprehensive reorganization...
13 posted on 07/21/2003 1:50:42 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: anymouse
More than two-thirds of the 800 respondents said NASA was doing an excellent or good job of directing the nation's space program, and an overwhelming majority, 83 percent, said they thought it was important to the country's international prestige to have humans flying in space.

Between 1959 and 1969 the United States took the space program from ICBMs to landing on the Moon.  That was ten short years.  This is thirty-four years later.

Please tell me the citizens of the United States are not as dumb as this poll question and answer indicate.

NASA is lost on terra firma.  The Robinsons would be ashamed.

14 posted on 07/21/2003 1:52:04 PM PDT by DoughtyOne
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To: anymouse
Instead of having a space program, let's have a space rush. The government annouces that the United States will establish a permanent colony (Moonbase) on the surface of the Moon. Instead of gearing up a "space program", a prize is offered: the first individual or corporation to build a lunar colony and keep in up and running for five years never pays corporate income taxes again.

Next, NASA is disbanded and reconstituted as the United States Department of Space Exploration and Colonization (US/SPACE), which is divided into two parts: a uniformed United States Space Service (and associated Space Academy) and a civilian United States Space Colonization Authority. The U.S. Space Service is subdivided into three sections: the U.S. Space Command ("S-COM" / military operations, treaty enforcement, BMD, asteroid defense, etc.), the U.S. Space Exploration Command ("X-COM", deep-space and planetary exploration and research) and the U.S. Space Transport Command ("T-COM" / transport, licensing of private vessels, space "merchant marine"). Once the lunar colony is up and running, volunteer colonization groups would register with the Colonization Authority, which provides legal title for their claims, and purchase sections of lunar property for colonization purposes. The Moon, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and te asteroid belt would be thoroughly explored by the crews of X-COM ships, which would identify potential colony sites. Colonizing groups would then purchase private transport (licensed by T-COM) to their chosen claims, said claims to be honored under the watchful eye of S-COM. The stated goal of the whole enterprise would be "To discover, explore, settle and develop extraterrestrial territories for the benefit of the people of the United States."

15 posted on 07/21/2003 1:52:05 PM PDT by B-Chan (Catholic. Monarchist. Texan. Any questions?)
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To: AntiGuv
Yes, the Soyuz is great for supplies and transporting people but I was referring to modules that were designed to fit the cargo bay of the orbiter.
16 posted on 07/21/2003 1:53:27 PM PDT by Normal4me
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To: Normal4me
I suppose the foremost question then revolves about how visionary NASA might be (don't smirk..) and how swiftly it may be so (don't smirk..) B-Chan is speculating in the right general direction, IMO. Regardless, I definitely see your point that practical reality is what it is and a successful transition for the space program would require proper attention and leadership. I think the American people would be quite supportive so long as elected officials articulate clear, defined objectives for the reorganization - objectives beyond just flying back & forth in near-Earth space..
17 posted on 07/21/2003 1:59:02 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: biblewonk
My-special-interest-is-better-than-yours ping.
18 posted on 07/21/2003 2:09:59 PM PDT by newgeezer (the difference between liberals and some "conservatives" is their special interests)
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To: henderson field
There are many people including myself who think the program is a luxury we cannot afford and the best thing would be to close it down permanently.

That opinion is completely wrong. The space program is vital to America's future if any, and is absolutely the only reason America is still in a leadership role today. Further, the space program is the only means available to permanently win the War on Terrorists. The program should be re-oriented toward building a manned base on the moon, a cislunar shuttle system, and a manned outpost on Phobos. The budget may be increased or not. If the Space Shuttle and the ISS are mothballed or handed over to the international community to do with as they see fit, NASA's budget need not increase to achieve these new goals, although the budget may increase by a factor of 2 or 3 without imposing any hardship on the tax-paying citizens. Maybe we'll still be around in 50 years if we make the investment.

19 posted on 07/21/2003 2:12:01 PM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: B-Chan
The Moon, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and te asteroid belt would be thoroughly explored by the crews of X-COM ships, which would identify potential colony sites.

Okay except one thing. Colonization won't pay for anything. Mining of asteroids will pay for everything. Explore asteroids to find good ones to mine. Everything else is secondary.

20 posted on 07/21/2003 2:24:03 PM PDT by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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