A “silent majority” in favor of the exploration plan?

In the May issue of SpaceWatch, the newsletter of the Space Foundation, there’s an article by foundation president Elliot Pulham about public support for the new exploration plan. An excerpt:

…in survey upon survey over the past two decades we [the American public] have expressed overwhelming support for the nation’s civil space program. Nonetheless, our politicians remain narrowly focused on “mail box issues” — ignoring the silent majority of support for space exploration in favor of pandering to the much smaller audience of squeaky wheels — the letter writing vested interests who, although small in number, set the mailboxes of elected officials on fire if their benefit or entitlement is threatened.

This “squeaky wheel gets the grease” mindset has led to the all-too-familiar refrain on Capitol Hill, “I’m not getting any mail on that.” Well, duh. Americans are not likely to be whipped into a letter-writing frenzy over an issue that they regard as such an apple-pie no-brainer. The challenge is for elected officials to act as leaders of public opinion rather than followers of their mailbox.

This is an interesting argument, but I don’t know how valid it really it is. While public support of space exploration, in the broadest, most general terms, might be significant, that support tends to drop off as more details, particularly the cost of such plans, emerge. Polls ranging from a CBS/New York Times poll in January to one that focused on people living in only one part of upstate New York showed, at best, lukewarm support for the new plan based on the details available at the time. Proponents of the Vision for Space Exploration should be careful about assuming that a vast “silent majority” exists in support of the plan, and continue to sell the plan to the public as well as Congress.

5 comments to A “silent majority” in favor of the exploration plan?

  • Yup.

    Public support for the space program is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s like motherhood and apple pie, but once you start to get specific, with costs, support falls off rapidly (as it should, because NASA proposes to do very little that’s worth what it costs).

  • I think the reason the public isn’t terribly supportive of the space program is the tremendous waste and lack of results associated with it. I mean, honestly, what are we getting for our $15B a year? A broken down shuttle program and a bunch of Earth orbiters? I’d be willing to bet that if we had a program that was constantly acheiving results — landing people on Mars, mining asteroids, etc. — people would whole-heartedly support it. NASA as it is though is one of the better examples of bad government bureaucracies wasting money.

  • Bill Turner

    $15B a year:
    That should be $6.5B for sciences, $6B for station and shuttle, $1.7B for technology, $1B for aeronautics, and several million for other areas.

    The Vision for Space Exploration sets a few milestones that the public can relate to.

  • Harold LaValley

    Well when the maintenance of the existing shuttles cost around the 3 billion mark. That does not leave much for the ISS or for alternative rocket design such as the crew rescue vehicle or taxi.
    Then when you figure into the equation that science of which if probe based means some monies had to have been spent on rockets.
    If one is to seperate out the costs of rockets versus probes you get a much better understanding of each departments overhead.

  • Perry Noriega

    The vote of the House of Representatives to approve Fiscal Year 2005 funding for NASA is a good first step in returning the US to the moon, and begins the realignment of priorities within NASA Administrator O’Keefe told us was coming. This can and should be followed up by letters, E-Mails, phone calls, and personal meetings with Senators and House of Representative members who will vote on this increase in NASA’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget, and urging them to approve this proposed increase is a matter of course.

    Beyond this, now would be a good time to begin defining new space systems that add to the government’s plan to return the US to the Moon, go onto Mars, and then to other destinations such as Asteroids, the moons of the outer planets, and who knows where else. If anyone is not satisfied with the lack of real infrastructure to create new wealth from the raw materials available on the moon and from asteroids, and the free energy from sunlight and Helium 3 imbedded in the lunar soil, build them. It is crazy to not consider creating new sources of wealth from the raw materials and energy freely available in space for the cost of building spacecraft to tap these energy and material resources.

    There is also much work to be done to sell the idea of moving beyond low earth orbit and back to the moon and mars to the common man and woman, and if two recent polls are any indication, the balance is precarious between doing new things in space and doing nothing in space. This balance can and should be tipped in favor of dynamic new space activities that create new hardware and emplace new infrastructure in a variety of locations that can supplant and enhance the President’s plan to open the inner solar system to human exploration and eventually, settlement. And the way to do it is just to do it, and build those new spacecraft, refineries, power plants, network hubs, web servers, and other essential hardware needed to build a future in space.

    Obviously new ways of raising capital in the quantities needed to finance the construction of these spacecraft is also needed, as conventional means to pay for doing anything in space have not worked, and the lessons of the first generation of entrepreneurial space companies should be to start small and make incremental progress by way of single or at most, a few processes and operations which can be done using commercial off the shelf spacecraft from such manufacturers as Spectrum Astro, Swedish Space Corporation, Space Dev, and others who are ready and willing to build numbers of spacecraft for as many new requirements as can be thought of.

    For myself, I have already written my two senators and my representative concerning Bush’s plan; one of them wrote me back a bland statement of lukewarm support, the other did not write at all, and my House member is of the opposite party from Mr. Bush, hence she feels anything not related to the social welfare of her constituents as a whole is a waste of money, not deserving her support. I suppose she is my House member, but does not really “represent” me in the conventional sense where space settlement and development are concerned.

    I am waiting to see what the rest of the space community will do to support this plan in the media, in the Congress, and of course, we are all waiting for President Bush to do his part and speak out in support of the need to reach beyond war, economic woes, and all the present set of troubles to a new bright future in the Inner Solar System. Actions also needs to be taken by everyone in the space community, and they need to network with each other, support the converged, nested set of goals President Bush outlined in January, and spread the work through other than the anti-anything space biased conventional media, and get the word out to everyone that space is the best future we have going for us, we just need to get organized, work together, and do it.