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A couple of polls

Yesterday the Coalition for Space Exploration released the results of a Gallup Poll on public interest in the Vision for Space Exploration. The survey is the third in a series dating back to mid-2005 commission by the organization to gauge public interest in the VSE; the release includes results from all three surveys. The results from the latest poll, performed in August, closely match the previous one in March, but both show slightly weaker support from the first poll in the series, in June 2005. For example, 66% of people in the latest poll support or strongly support the VSE, compared to 64% in March but 77% in June 2005. Also, 63% in the latest poll believe NASA should be funded at its current or increased levels, compared to 60% in March but 73% in 2005. (The margin of error is ±3%.)

The poll also addresses potential competition with China, but the question is a bit misleading:

Both China and the U.S. have announced plans to send astronauts to the moon. China has announced plans go to the moon by 2017
and the U.S. has announced plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2018, a
year later. To what extent, if any, are you concerned that China would
become the new leader in space exploration or take the lead over the U.S.?

To many people, that might appear that China would send people to the Moon ahead of the US, although the question doesn’t explicitly state that. The “China has announced plans go to the moon by 2017″ is misleading since China will go to the Moon—in the form of a lunar orbiter—as early as next year; the 2017 date is the current estimate for a sample return mission. Not that it really matters: only 28% in the August poll said they were somewhat or very concerned (up from 23% in March), while 69% were not concerned or not very concerned (up from 66% in March.)

Another poll, however, finds less support for the VSE among young adults. The Dittmar Associates poll of people aged 18-25 found a fair amount of apathy in a return to the Moon: 45% were “neutral”, compared to 29% interest and 23% opposed; about half were familiar with the VSE in some manner. Also, respondents were opposed by a 3-to-1 margin to sending humans to Mars, although a majority favored continued robotic exploration. There are some more details in a paper on the poll presented at the Space 2006 conference last week.

14 comments to A couple of polls

  • vze3gz45

    ‘Another poll, however, finds less support for the VSE among young adults. The Dittmar Associates poll of people aged 18-25 found a fair amount of apathy in a return to the Moon: 45% were “neutral”, compared to 29% interest and 23% opposed; about half were familiar with the VSE in some manner. Also, respondents were opposed by a 3-to-1 margin to sending humans to Mars, although a majority favored continued robotic exploration’

    The above is the result of spending 30 years in low earth orbit, flying the space shuttle for that long with its high price tag and young people growing up under it with no memory of leaving earth orbit and going to the moon. If young people grew up with the US going to the moon, landing on a near earth astroide, I think their would be more support from young people. Frankly, watching NASA fly a vehicle to low earth orbit for 30 plus years is boring to the
    average young person. NASA needs to push out of earth orbit and keep pushing beyond the moon to get the excitement of young people.

    vze3gz45

  • While not disagreeing with vze3gz45, the decline in support for the VSE is hardly surprising — in fact, I am surprised at how small the decline has been. Nothing visible to the average person has been accomplished by the VSE. This is part of the reason the drawn out schedule and development of new launch vehicles was a mistake. If and when we start seeing test launches and flights of actual human-related hardware, I think we might see an up-tick in support.

    If we want to maintain that support, we’ve got to see some real exploration soon — meaning astronauts on an asteroid or traversing across dramatically new terrain on the moon.

    – Donald

  • Chris Mann

    Astronauts were ‘traversing across dramatically new terrain’ last time. The program was cancelled in less than 12 months.

  • Yes, Chris, the program was cancelled, but, as I have argued elsewhere, the program was never sold as exploration. The blurred television images were ignored because people where most interested in the technological achievement of getting there, and scientists wanted to go running off to Mars and essentially ignored the lunar discoveries.

    The experience with the Mars rovers argues things might be different this time. People like looking over the horizon, and if they can do it with people involved, they’ll probably like it even more.

    There’s no way to prove this either way short of going back and seeing what happens. But, the extreme reluctance of both politicians and the public to completely withdraw from human spaceflight suggests that they find it emotionally valuable.

    – Donald

  • …scientists wanted to go running off to Mars and essentially ignored the lunar discoveries.

    I can provide the names of several score geologists and planetary scientits I knew (out of hundreds if not thousands more) who put in a hell of a lot of work on the lunar discoveries in the 1970s and 1980s. I’m sorry that what happened didn’t live up to your expectations, but the assertion above is simply nonsense.

  • Okay, Monte, than the human Apollo project produced a lot of work for scientists to do. Scientists can’t have it both ways: Apollo was scientifically useless and we did a lot of science with the results.

    Few knowledgeable people would argue that the moon does not hide a number of valuable scientific secrets. (See my article in this week’s Space News for a partial list.) But, Mars appears more familiar, and therefore more interesting, so scientists naturally want to study Mars first. (This is true even though, in fact, the somewhat modified regolith of most of Mars’ surface is a lot more similar to the moon’s surface than that of the Earth.)

    The unfortunate fact is that the moon is closer than Mars. We can do field work with geologists on the moon in the immediate future; we cannot do that on Mars in the next couple of decades. Therefore, we should send geologists to the moon and (a few) robots to Mars. When transportation to Mars gets easier, we should send gologists there, and so on.

    – Donald

  • Monte Davis

    It’s your straw man that scientists claim “Apollo was scientifically useless.” The ones I know (and I) have no problem with “Apollo was much more expensive than unmanned sample-return missions of comparable scope would have been”… or with “Lunar science was very much a stepchild in the over-all scheme of Apollo, and the bulk of it was stillborn with Apollo 18-20.”

    At the same time, I have no problem with the proposition that in the absence of men-to-the-moon sizzle, such unmanned missions either wouldn’t have happened or would have happened only over a much longer period.

  • Ah, Monte, but this is what I do disagree with,

    Apollo was much more expensive than unmanned sample-return missions of comparable scope would have been

    A robotic mission that achieved everything that Apollos-14 through -17 achieved probably would not be possible. If it were, it would not be significantly cheaper. Sure, placing something like the Martian rovers on the moon would be cheaper than putting astronauts there. But there is no way these vehicles, or anything comparable, could do the comprehensive survey that, say, Apollo-17 accomplished at Taurus-Littrow in only three days.

    Whenever we have seriously studied or tried an “apples to apples” automation of a complex set of tasks — from repairing the Space Telescope, to automating Air Force spy plane operations — it has proved to be more expensive than doing it with humans in the loop. Why do scientists insist that automating a far more complex set of tasks — like a geological survey — would be cheaper?

    The reason is that, rather than comparing a human geological survey to an automated geological survey of similar complexity, they are comparing a human geological survey to a far more simple automated reconnaissance.

    – Donald

  • Chris Mann

    With less than 2700ms RTT, who said it had to be automated?

  • Donald: unmanned missions could not do everything Apollo did. But the opposite is also true — unmanned missions could have done much that Apollo couldn’t do (and, in fact, they did — who discovered polar hydrogen?). This is particularly true if you assume equal spending (ignoring political plausibility). Unmanned missions would have visited much more of the moon. The supposed advantage of having astronauts there doesn’t help if the sites aren’t visited at all.

    Moreover, as I’ve said before, I consider unmanned lunar missions to have been capable of answering the most important questions answered by Apollo. Again, you disagreed with that, but you are wrong, in my opinion.

  • Paul: and I argue that you are wrong. Neither of us can prove our case to the satisfaction of the other.

    who discovered polar hydrogen?

    While I grant that it wasn’t, this could have been done by Apollo at low marginal cost. If Apollo had continued to a second generation, higher-energy polar orbit missions probably would have been on the agenda, and, as I argued in last week’s Space News, Command Modules waiting in polar orbit can carry instruments essentially for “free.” Meanwhile, astronauts would have continued the kind of detailed geological surveys that cannot effectively be automated.

    Unmanned missions would have visited much more of the moon. The supposed advantage of having astronauts there doesn’t help if the sites aren’t visited at all.

    This is pure speculation, and probably not true. Once again, you are ignoring the sunk costs in the automated program (development of the launch vehicles you are using) while you are billing development of the infrastructure to human exploration. That is comparing Apples to Oranges. Once the capability of returning humans to the moon is re-developed, NASA’s estimate for the marginal costs of each mission is about $2 billion, essentially twice the estimated cost of the automated lander. (Note that continuing Apollo would have cost far less than having to re-create the infrastructure today, and would certainly have been more cost effective for science than either an automated program or the VSE.)

    Do you seriously argue that $2 billion for four astronauts for a week or two costs less per unit science than a $1 billion robot lander, even if it is operational for months or years? I suppose you do, but you are undbountedly wrong.

    – Donald

  • Chris Mann

    It’s hard to trade the two methods on scientific potential, Donald. Publicly, NASA still hasn’t outlined any.

  • Paul: and I argue that you are wrong. Neither of us can prove our case to the satisfaction of the other.

    What you did was take a subset of the results where astronauts were most useful (stratigraphy, IIRC), define those results to be the most important, and draw your conclusion. I consider the overall geochemical results — which did not require human presence — to have been more fundamental.

    > The supposed advantage of having astronauts there doesn’t help if the sites aren’t visited at all.

    This is pure speculation, and probably not true.

    Wow, you’re saying that the putative advantage of having astronauts there doesn’t require the astronauts actually be there? Let’s leave the astronauts on Earth, then, while they explore the moon. It’ll save boatloads of money.

  • Paul: I consider the overall geochemical results — which did not require human presence — to have been more fundamental.

    I emphatically disagree with this. Even in the unlikely event that it did provide the most valuable information (my understanding was that Apollo-14′s success in finding a piece of the original crust, a clear prerequisite to your chemical analysis, was the most valuable discovery), that is hardly the kind of “exploration” that I want to pay for with my tax dollars. Don’t get me wrong, I want that to happen, but only as part of a wider project to find out what the totality of the moon’s environment is really like.

    Wow, you’re saying that the putative advantage of having astronauts there doesn’t require the astronauts actually be there?

    Not at all. What I did say (or meant to say) is that, once the up-front transportation costs are are paid for, the on-going costs of sending robots and humans to the moon are not all that different. (While you do have to supply life support consumables, you don’t have to pay for re-developing astronaut’s brains every time you send them, which we do with robots.)

    If the incremental costs are similar, than continuing the Apollo program and continuing to send astronauts would not have cost vastly more than developing and sending robots. If that is true, than the number of astronaut crews we could have sent would not have been dramatically less than the number of robots we could have sent. (In reality, of course, we did neither.)

    – Donald