Many Americans are optimistic about the future of space travel, but they don’t necessarily want to pay for it.
It’s been that way for some time, actually. A Harris survey taken in 1970 – less than a year after the first moon landing – showed that a majority (56%) thought the landing was not worth the money spent. A separate Harris poll, in 1971, however, found that 81% of Americans agreed with the statement that “nothing can equal seeing the astronauts land and walk on the moon as it happened live on TV.”
In fact, as we dug through data archives of the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey – which has been asking the public for 40 years about their views of space exploration and federal funding for it — we found that Americans are consistently more likely to say that the U.S. spends too much on space exploration than too little. At no time has more than 20% of the public said that the U.S. spends too little on space exploration.
Actually, I suspect this isn’t unique to the space program. We as Americans seem to want the benefits of a lot of these programs, we just don’t want to pay for them. In the case of NASA, I wonder how many Americans realize that only 0.5% of the federal budget goes there. Probably about the same number who understand that foreign aid is around 1.4% of the budget.