A CBS News poll released yesterday suggests that the public is more skeptical about the future of the shuttle program than ever before. The poll of 1,222 adults, conducted from July 29 to August 2, found than 59% thought the shuttle is worth continuing, down from 75% just after the Columbia accident; support was also in the 70–80% range in polls in 1999 and 1986. NASA’s “job rating” is also the lowest in five polls going back to 1993: 55% rated NASA’s job performance as “excellent” or “good”; previous polls had excellent/good levels of 57–70%.
However, another poll by Rasmussen Reports is a little more optimistic about the long-term prospects of space exploration. That poll, of 1,000 adults on July 27–28, found that two-thirds of them thought having a manned spaceflight program is “very important” or “somewhat important”. In addition, 71% thought it was very or somewhat likely that humans would be back on the Moon within the next 25 years, and 55% thought humans would be on Mars in the same period. (Respondents were a little more pessimistic about the long-long-term, though: only 41% thought it was very or somewhat likely that there would be “human colonies” on other planets in the next century.)
What does all this mean? First, there are the usual caveats about polls, which (as noted here last month) can yield diverging results because either the public has weakly-held, inconsistent positions on space issues or because of careful crafting of the survey instrument. However, if polls hold true, and the public is interested in long-term exploration of the Moon and Mars, but is less supportive of the shuttle, will we start to see a greater push for the early retirement of the shuttle before 2010?