Most Americans are worried about the threat of incoming asteroids and believe NASA should prioritize those concerns over going to the Moon or Mars, according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. The survey measured people’s opinions on space exploration and their attitudes towards NASA, private space companies, and the role of the United States as a leader in space.
Only 12% of those questioned think that sending astronauts to the Moon should be a priority for NASA, while 11% say the same about sending astronauts to explore Mars. The general attitude towards NASA remains positive, with 65% saying that the space agency has an essential role to play even as the role of private space companies continues to grow. Respondents also had a positive attitude towards private space companies, with 47% agreeing that these generally do a good job in contributing to space exploration.
Most Americans believe NASA has a critical role to play even as private space companies are involved in spacePew Research Center
Although the majority of those questioned thought it was important for the USA to maintain its role as world leader in space exploration, very few actually supported NASA’s efforts to return to the Moon, send astronauts to Mars or continue to conduct scientific research.
Out of the 10,000 people polled, 60% prioritized the monitoring of asteroids and other objects likely to hit Earth as the space agency’s top priority. In September 2022, NASA successfully redirected an asteroid as part of a planetary defense test known as the DART mission. The space agency also keeps a close eye on 28,000 near-Earth objects, but given that there are no known threats to Earth in the next 100 years, planetary defense doesn’t seem to be high on NASA’s list of priorities.
NASA is currently focusing on its Artemis program to send astronauts to the Moon and future plans to land humans on Mars for the first time. In its 2024 Budget Request, NASA allocated $8.1 billion of the $27.2 billion budget request to the Artemis program, a slight increase from last year’s $7.5 billion. NASA is also keen to further develop its Moon to Mars program, a proposed idea to use the Moon as a testbed for eventually landing humans on Mars.
NASA has also prioritized the return of Mars samples as part of the 2024 budget, requesting $949 million to launch samples from the Red Planet’s surface back to Earth. The ambitious plan is currently under review by the Senate due to concerns that it is already over budget and unlikely to launch on its original schedule in 2028. Instead, a new spending bill suggests giving just $300 million for Mars Sample Return, with the Senate threatening to cancel it altogether if NASA doesn’t provide an annual funding profile for the mission.
The Pew Research Center conducted a similar survey in 2018, in which monitoring the Earth’s climate system ranked as NASA’s top priority. Mars and the Moon still occupied the bottom two spots, although Mars slightly outperformed the Moon in 2018 with 18% favoring a mission to Mars as a priority over 13% wanting to see astronauts go to the Moon.
The most recent survey revealed that more than half of the American public expects space tourism to become routine in the next 50 years. However, 65% are not interested in participating in any of it.