NASA, Other

Polls raise new questions about interest in Mars exploration—and the polls themselves

A report released two months ago concluded there was no national consensus on NASA’s strategic direction, including a lack of agreement on a long-term destination for human space exploration. Two polls released this week, each with their own issues, appear to have inadvertently confirmed that assessment.

A “preliminary snapshot report” of a poll commissioned by Explore Mars and Boeing found that 75% of respondents agreed that NASA’s budget should be increased to 1% of the overall federal budget to fund a mission—presumably, although not explicitly stated, to be human—to Mars. (The Phillips & Company poll found that that, on average, people thought NASA already got about 2.5% of the federal budget, rather than the approximately 0.5% it actually gets.) That interest in a human Mars mission rises to 84% if Curiosity finds evidence of past or present life. 71% of people said they were “confident” humans would go to Mars by 2033 (67% of people said they were confident humans would go to Mars in their lifetime, suggesting some respondents were in touch with their mortality.)

Another poll, though, suggests humans wouldn’t want to stay there. A poll by YouGov for The Huffington Post finds that 79% of people think’s it’s not very likely or nor at all likely there will be a human colony on Mars in their lifetime. Only 7% of people said they wold be definitely interested in being part of such a colony, while 56% said no, they’re not at all interested in moving to Mars.

Is it possible to reconcile these polls: are people interested in supporting human exploration of Mars, but don’t think it’ll lead to anything more? Perhaps. Only 10% of the respondents in the Explore Mars/Boeing poll said that establishing a permanent settlement was the top reason for going to Mars, ahead of only creating jobs on Earth and supporting international cooperation among the rationales provided; achieving a “greater understanding of Mars” was the most popular choice.

And it’s possible that the polls themselves have flaws. The YouGov poll contains only three questions, all about human colonies on Mars: an odd, out-of-the-blue topic to be asking people about. There are also potentially selection issues, as YouGov polls are from a self-selected panel of people “who like to express and share their opinions, and earn points along the way.” The poll results also lack any demographics or other information about who responded, other than that it’s based on “1,000 adult interviews” with a margin of error of 3.4%.

The Explore Mars/Boeing poll results also lack, for the time being, demographic information, although the organizations state in the preliminary poll results that the full report “with demographic data” will be released on March 4. Some have questioned the poll results on other grounds, including that the head of Phillips & Company is a member of the board of advisors of Explore Mars and thus poses a potential conflict of interest.

It’s possible that the confusion in the poll results reflects a confusion in society: that “lack of national consensus” identified in the National Research Council report in December. Or, perhaps, people don’t think much about sending humans to explore and/or settle Mars; understandably so. It’s worth noting that the new human spaceflight study underway by the National Academies, as directed by the 2010 NASA authorization act, includes a number of panelists with expertise in public surveys: perhaps a new assessment of public interest in and support for human spaceflight, including missions to Mars, will come of that.

31 comments to Polls raise new questions about interest in Mars exploration—and the polls themselves

  • Jeff, thanks for posting the link to my article about the Explore Mars poll.

    Richard Phillips of Phillips & Co. posted two comments in reply to that article, explaining what was their methodology and claiming this made it sound. It doesn’t, in my opinion, but that leads us off into debates about river sampling and whatnot.

    In any case, the poll flies in the face of pretty much every other poll over the last 50 years which has shown tepid public support for government-financed human spaceflight. That’s the first red flag.

    The second red flag is that the poll was conducted by e-mail, which any polling company would tell you is not reliable.

    The third red flag is that Phillips & Co. is not a polling company. It’s a marketing firm. Explore Mars is their client. As you noted, Mr. Phillips is on the Explore Mars board of directors. Since Explore Mars solicits donations of $500 and more on their web site, the happy-face results of the poll can be construed to entice people into donating money to Explore Mars — hence, Phillips & Co. has delivered to their client exactly the results it wanted.

    @NASA retweeted the poll on Twitter. Whomever runs @NASA obviously didn’t bother to check the credibility of the poll. I just don’t want to see it enter into the public discourse as a fact, because every other poll conducted by real pollsters shows opposite results.

    • DCSCA

      “In any case, the poll flies in the face of pretty much every other poll over the last 50 years which has shown tepid public support for government-financed human spaceflight.” spun Stephen.

      This is simply inaccurate. Examplt- in early 2004, as Dubya was announcing his VSE initiative, a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll showed Americans supported the space program 53% w/47% opposing. 53% is a majority- hardly ‘tepid’ =eyeroll= And those in support were chiefly the young and men. Women were more opposed. On the other hand, 67% opposed paying for it- which is classically American.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Not to sound anti-democratic, but the civil human space flight program doesn’t need public consensus on its goals. It only needs political consensus.

    • MrEarl

      On that DBN and I agree.

    • Ferris Valyn

      Arguably that applies to all issues facing government, since that is dictated by the type of government we live in.

    • common sense

      However a public consensus may, and actually should, somehow influence the political consensus since we are supposed to live in a democracy.

      But hope springs eternal for sure.

    • DCSCA

      “Not to sound anti-democratic, but the civil human space flight program doesn’t need public consensus on its goals. It only needs political consensus.”

      Correct. If Apollo had been put on the ballot as a government initiative in 1961 w/it’s estimated $25 billion – $40 billion price tag, it would have never gotten off the ground.

  • Mark Whittington

    Of course there is also the possibility that when a poll shows a result that runs contrary to the observer’s biases, it gets dimissed. What I found interesting was not the support for Mars Exploration, which seems to track with most other polls, but also the questions on NASA spending. People have an inflated view of how much is spent on government space and, when informed how little it actually is, tend to be keen on increasing that spending. That also tracks with previous studies.

    • DCSCA

      “People have an inflated view of how much is spent on government space…” mused Mark.

      This is true. For instance, a recent 2-hour PBS/Nova telecast spotlighted the multiple space systems NASA has in place for Earth observation. These high-flying, low profile NASA satellites zip around the planet below the public radar. The infoermation they privide is taken for granted.

      The obsession w/Mars is peculiar to the planetary science set. For them, is an interesting place to explore, but to the dumbed down, cash-strapped, Fox-watching, anti-science, gun clinging Bible clutching American taxpayers, it’s a distant red dot they can’t find in the night sky even if they cared to try or it’s a city in Pennsylvania– or worse, a candy company.

      On the other hand, they can see the moon and like chanting ‘U! S1 A!’ at NASCAR events. Alas, NASCAR isnt NASA, even though both excel at goin in circles, no place fast. And how the American public will react to the PRC launching out to it in the here and now, hallmarking this century as theirs, remains to be seen. America’s Apollo press clippings have yellowed w/age. And it’s increasingly apparent that crowing over Apollo laurels from half a entury ago is falling on deaf ears w/current generations (much to the consternation of Cernan et al.,) who what to leave their own marks on Luna– or Mars or asteroids beyond.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Mark Whittington
      February 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm · Reply

      Of course there is also the possibility that when a poll shows a result that runs contrary to the observer’s biases, it gets dimissed>

      you should know you dismissed all the polls that showed Romney/Ryan getting their rear ends kicked and bought into the “unskewed polls” BS what a fool that made you look like.

      This poll is unsound. It is a little better then a Dean Chambers effort (the “scion” that Whittington believed on the unskewed polls stuff) but not much.

      RGO

  • E. P. Grondine

    My own informal poll may be biased as well, but nearly everyone seems to think that NASA finding the next piece of “stuff” from space before it hits us would be a good idea, and NASA should do it before flying men to Mars.

    Especially since they also think NASA gets 2.5% of the Federal Budget and thus has enough money to do it.

  • common sense

    I find these polls idiotic because they do not reflect the reality of NASA funding process.

    You could give twice the budget and still NASA would not make it to Mars. Special interests prevail as we see with SLS/MPCV. And Congress is not even funding these programs at the right level.

    The problem is not the mission, never was and will probably never be.

    Today with the current budget NASA could be on the Moon in a few years by simply dumping SLS/MPCV, appropriately funding at fixed-price a few companies to deliver the LVs, RVs, departure stages, landers and the rest necessary to do it. But thy would have to dump their cost-plus partners, stop the revolving doors, and lay-off far too many contractors.

    And then of course there is the tiny detail that the technologies to safely go to Mars and back, to establish a permanent outpost on Mars, to land a crew on Mars, these technologies well do not even exist.

    So it won’t happen. Ever.

    Next poll? Should we increase NASA’s budget to land a crew on Titan to drill and check what are the beasties swimming in the ocean by the end of the decade? And my answer is a big YES. If we need to go for something big, at least let’s make it REAL BIG. Darn.

    AND. I hear the Chinese are readying a fleet of submersible to go there after they harvest all the He3 on the Moon and set up their fortress there. We cannot leave the leadership to China to do stupid things! Come on! Now is the time. We are cash strapped and the economy worldwide is near collapse. Again now is the time! Let’s be daring my friends!

    • Coastal Ron

      common sense said:

      You could give twice the budget and still NASA would not make it to Mars. Special interests prevail as we see with SLS/MPCV. And Congress is not even funding these programs at the right level.

      Speaking of how much money it would take to get to Mars, or closer destinations, the NASA FISO group has released a study showing that by using commercial rockets like Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy, NASA can do human exploration missions quicker and for far less money, with the added advantages of using mature transportation that has redundancy. Clark covers this over at NewSpace Watch.

      From a safety and reliability standpoint, when comparing the SLS to existing rockets, they claim:

      - Studies show that using redundant commercial providers may have a probability of launch success over 90% because 40 straight successes have improved reliability predictions

      - HLLV [i.e. the SLS] will require 80 years to achieve this level of reliability heritage being launched just once every other year.

      Now obviously they are currently talking about Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy, but they do mention that Falcon Heavy will have a lot of heritage by the time it would be used for exploration missions, and their proposed asteroid mission would use more Falcon Heavy launches than Delta IV Heavy.

      Within the same budget NASA does have ways to do space exploration – if only Congress will stop forcing NASA to spend money on pork programs like the SLS.

  • common sense

    From NASAWatch… http://spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=43367

    Mars mission? Yeah. Right.

  • On the subject of the NASA budget …

    Lori Garver gave a speech February 1 at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Click here to watch on YouTube.

    Lori said that, if you add up the budgets of all the other space agencies in the world, it totals about three-fourths of NASA’s budget. Hmmm.

    And as I often point out, if you lump in all the private sector space funding with NASA’s budget, we’re spending more on space than has been spent per year probably since the Apollo era. Not just the commercial cargo/crew folks, but those not receiving any NASA subsidies, e.g. Stratolaunch, XCOR, Planetary Resources, Masten, Golden Spike, Deep Space Industries, etc.

    Money really isn’t the problem.

    • Coastal Ron

      Good perspective Stephen, and one that I agree with. Our problem is not the lack of money, but the lack of spending the money we have in the best possible way to get the most “value”.

      Using my favorite example, spending $30B of NASA’s budget on a rocket (the SLS) that has no known needs or paying customers is a perfect example of wasteful spending – we are building such a capability too far in advance of any real need. $30B could buy a lot of hardware that could be launched on existing rockets.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Lori said that, if you add up the budgets of all the other space agencies in the world, it totals about three-fourths of NASA’s budget. Hmmm.>>

      this is what deficit spending has done for The Republic and why it is being bankrupted by technical and other programs which are simply producing nothing.

      in the “olden days” since there was no deficit spending hard choices had to be made, as Ike said when Lunik 2 took pictures of the lunar farside “yes I would like the US to take similar pictures but I am not willing to unbalance the budget to do it”

      As Kennedy and Johnson struggled with Vietnam, they did not deficit spend…so programs like MOL, the XB-70 had to be cut when they did not work; and programs like Apollo which were getting large chunks of cash were limited…the lunar stay time was limited because there was no money to build a large solar power panel to help the LM batteries…

      The military made hard choices…today those dont exist.

      We spend more then the next 10 nations in the world on defense…and get less for it. The F-35 program is consuming in real dollars more then the F-15 and F-14 development cost combined…actually you can even add in the F-16 and 18 and you still have not gotten to what the US Has spent so far on the F-35

      Cx/Orion/SLS has now spent nearly 5 times what in real dollars were spent on the entire Gemini program…and like the F-35 there is no real hint when the SPENDING STOPS.

      All the GOP congressman who are quickto cut social programs never come up and say “why is this” with military and space efforts…

      Whittington is incapable of asking why SLS/Orion cost so much…

      its all the politics of the deficit loving wing of the GOP

      RGO

      • DCSCA

        As Kennedy and Johnson struggled with Vietnam, they did not deficit spend…so programs like MOL, the XB-70 had to be cut when they did not work; and programs like Apollo which were getting large chunks of cash were limited…the lunar stay time was limited because there was no money to build a large solar power panel to help the LM batteries” opined RGO.

        Well said RGO. Essentially correct, although ther was some deficit spending and Nam was more LBJ’s problem than JFK’s- Still, as Dave Scott put it, they’d ‘pretty much stretched the rubber band as far as it would go’ w/modifying Apollo hardware given the budgets on hand. And that program was paid for in its time. Smart people don’t pay much attention to Garver’s musing on future space ops- she’s essentiall a Washington lobbyist who never met a government contract she didn’t embrace and operating outside the area of her competence when it comes to reasoned space policy planning. Championing the ISS is a classic example. Always the contracts w/her. The quicker she is jettisoned from NASA, the better.

  • Robert G. Oler

    A true poll question on Mars or any human exploration would start with

    “NASA Has spent over 25 billion dollars in the Cx Orion/SLS program and will need to spend another 25 billion dollars at least to get it flying. Going back to the Moon will then cost another 75-100 billion dollars and take another 20 yeas. Is it worth it?”

    the answer will be no overwhelmingly RGO

    • DCSCA

      “Going back to the Moon will then cost another 75-100 billion dollars and take another 20 yeas. Is it worth it?”

      Seward was told Alaska wasn’t worth it, either in his day– ‘Seward’s Folly.’ Value is a transient term. The value isn’t w/t the lunar excuersion itself but the value to geo-political strategies– and domestic economics. A recent PBS special on Silicon Valley noted that 60% of all the integrated circuits created were bought by NASA in the 1960s. That coupled w/DoD purchases essentially created what we call Silicon Valley today and layed the foundation for the commercial computer fevolution we enjoy today.

      • Coastal Ron

        DCSCA said:

        A recent PBS special on Silicon Valley noted that 60% of all the integrated circuits created were bought by NASA in the 1960s.

        That is a meaningless statistic, and likely one that you interpreted or remembered incorrectly. 60% of all integrated circuits made in the 10 years of the 60′s? And I suppose they all were installed in the Apollo command module? ;-)

        That coupled w/DoD purchases essentially created what we call Silicon Valley today and layed the foundation for the commercial computer fevolution we enjoy today.

        Notice there are no computer chips made in Silicon Valley anymore? Yet it’s still the hotbed of innovation today, but today it’s software that gets the VC attention, not chip manufacturers (they are now thought of as a commodity, regardless how innovative and hard they may be). Things change.

        I’m not sure what your point was (you never made a good case for it), but since the Moon is not anybody’s to own or give away, land grabs are not a possibility at this point. And unlike the worst conditions one would find in Alaska, humans can still live off the land there without any technology or outside help. You can’t do that on the Moon, which is why someone needs to figure out what the “value” is on the Moon before they spend tens or hundreds of $Billions to test out their exploitation “theories” – political or otherwise.

        And so far the only value that has been found in going to the Moon is in settling arguments made here on Earth – when is there going to be another one of those? Who knows, but it hasn’t happened in 40 years, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      • Robert G. Oler

        Value is in transient terms and that is true coming and going…today Apollo is about like it was then not embraced by more then half of the people as good spending…and so far human spaceflight has never demonstrated a value for the dollar that sustains it…now it is just sustained on Pork. It doesnt have to be this way, but right now it is RGO

  • In an aside, that is not directly connected to going to Mars, but addresses the need for locating and detecting dangerous asteroids and comets then diverting them from a collision with Earth, a meteor strike in Russia just occurred that injured at least 102 people.
    http://www.citizensinspace.org/2013/02/meteor-strike-in-russia/?goback=%2Egde_63823_member_214409443

  • Coastal Ron

    I think Dennis Tito just answered this question in the best way possible – he is going, and he plans to leave in 2018.

    I guess he feels the government is too slow…

  • Jim

    you can get any result you want from a poll by framing the question the right way. For example, if the poll had asked “Are you willing to have your taxes raised to support human space flight,’ or “”are you willing to cut medical spending or social security to fund human space flight,” the results might have been very different.

  • ADEBISI

    If political consensus is required and not public consensus, why is NASA concerned that the public incorrectly assumes that NASA takes a larger percentage of the national budget?

    By the way, what a good forum.

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