NASA, Other

Poll reveals gender, racial, and other gaps in support for funding NASA

Earlier this month, the polling group YouGov released the results of a recent poll on space issues. The poll covered a hodgepodge of topics, from reasons for supporting NASA to whether the poll respondent would be interested in flying in space “free of costs.” One question of interest was on NASA funding: “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) budget for 2014 is $16 billion, its lowest level since 2007. Do you think NASA’s budget is…” with the options of much too high, too high, about right, too low, and much too low. (The question is slightly incorrect: NASA’s fiscal year 2014 appropriations have not been set yet, and it is likely to get a little more than $16 billion, with the passage of a two-year overall budget deal that avoids sequestration.)

The overall poll results indicate that the majority believe NASA is getting about the right amount of funding or too little:

Much too high 11%
Too high 12%
About right 39%
Too low 25%
Much too low 13%

However, YouGov also provides detailed poll results, which break down the overall numbers (based on a survey of 1,170 adults in late November; margins of error are not included) into various categories based on the poll respondents’ ages, genders, location, and other factors. Those breakdowns reveal some interesting, but perhaps not that surprising, gaps in support.

One such gap is between men and women. Nearly half of men polled thought NASA funding was too low, while women were split almost equally between thinking NASA was getting too much or too little:

Male Female
too high 20% 26%
about right 34% 45%
too low 47% 29%

(In this and subsequent tables, the “too high” and “much too high” responses are combined, as are “too low” and “much too low” to simplify the results.)

Another gap is on race: 44% those who identified themselves as white said NASA’s budget was too low, versus 22% who thought it was too high. However, responses among blacks were almost the reverse: 34% thought NASA’s budget was too high, versus 14% who thought it too low. Hispanics, meanwhile, were more evenly split.

White Black Hispanic Other
too high 22% 34% 21% 18%
about right 34% 52% 52% 40%
too low 44% 14% 27% 42%

Another gap in support in NASA spending is based on education. For those who said they had a high school education or less, there was an even split between those who thought NASA’s budget was too high versus those who thought it too low. However, as education levels increased, the fraction who thought NASA’s budget was too high declined, while the fraction who thought it too low increased—an argument, perhaps, for NASA education efforts?

High school or less Some college College Grad Post Grad
too high 28% 24% 14% 11%
about right 43% 37% 37% 34%
too low 28% 39% 49% 55%

There was also a trend in NASA support based household income: those making less than $40,000 a year were more likely to think NASA’s current budget was too high than those making $80,000 or more a year (a trend likely correlated to some degree with education levels):

Under $40K $40–80K More than $80K Prefer not to say
too high 27% 24% 18% 17%
about right 42% 37% 36% 38%
too low 30% 39% 46% 44%

It’s always tempting to read more into a single poll’s results than is recommended, given the limitations of polling and the sensitivity of poll results to how questions are structured: what if, for example, the YouGov poll had used NASA’s fraction of the overall federal budget versus a dollar amount? However, the poll suggests that while support for NASA may generally be positive, it is not evenly distributed.

66 comments to Poll reveals gender, racial, and other gaps in support for funding NASA

  • Coastal Ron

    It’s always tempting to read more into a single poll’s results than is recommended…

    Very true, regardless how good or bad the poll results look.

    The question of funding is a good one to ask, since taxpayers are the ones paying for what NASA does. And since the poll didn’t seem to go into the details of how the money is being spent, I would assume that taxpayers are crafting their responses based what they know NASA is doing today, like our rovers on Mars and our astronauts and scientists on the ISS. Other programs, like the JWST and SLS, only become visible when they become newsworthy.

    As a follow on to this poll, it would be nice if we could provide taxpayers with a selection of possible futures for NASA and see what they think. Ask them directly if NASA should return to it’s NACA roots to support our commercial space industry, or that NASA should do everything itself and shun collaborative efforts. That would interesting to see, and the results might influence some politicians (hopefully in a good way).

  • reader

    I wish someone would do a poll where NASA budget is shown next to and contrasted to NIH and NSF budgets.

    My bet is that the support levels would plummet, if the responder would actually be informed. Also, a drill down into the big NASA budget lines would be interesting – the split between planetary, “exploration” ( whatever that means ), etc.

    As for the other axes of the poll.. Andy Bobrow documented that in a 2004 short movie ..

    • vulture4

      Have you actually compared them? NIH bujet finally surpassed NASA’s only a few years ago, and it tackles thousands of diseases killing billions of people. NSF, with a much broader scientific portfolio, has a budget much less than NASA’s

  • Guest

    I wonder how polls would turnout if it were translated to household terms. For example, NASA’s budget equates to about $150 each year for every household in the US. (About the national average for one months of groceries for a household) is NASA’s budget too low, too high? Etc. are we getting enough bang for the buck?

    Of course other agency budgets could be similarly translated. Defense would thousands, Etc. with similar types of comparison.

    • reader

      Thats a good way of framing it. That would put NIH at about $300 and NSF at about $70 per household.

      I suspect NASA would take a massive tumble there.

    • Coastal Ron

      Guest said:

      I wonder how polls would turnout if it were translated to household terms… Of course other agency budgets could be similarly translated.

      I think this type of information would be useful, but only if comparisons could be made. $16B per year is a lot of money, but when compared to other expenditures it provides context on what the taxpayer is getting (or not getting).

      Of course regional influences will start showing up too, with people near NASA supported facilities being more likely to approve NASA expenditures than those that are near NIH supported facilities.

      In some ways this is why the Flexible Path approach has so much going for it, because to a certain degree the amount of funding doesn’t matter, only that progress can be made without large sustained funding required. I think the public would like that approach if given the choice.

  • mike shupp

    The poll could have been taken in the 1960′s. Racial, economic, and gender splits over support of NASA haven’t changed more than a few percentage points in fifty years.

    • reader

      But the NASA that is being “supported” has changed quite a bit over fifty years.

      • mike shupp

        A fair point. But people aren’t being asked what specifically they want to support ar NASA — with the exception of early 1959 when pollsters asked whether NASA should proceed with Apollo 11 (the public was favorable). As a rule, though, the question is whether NASA should get more or less or the same funding, and that’s it. And perhaps it makes no sense to ask more — people aren’t particularly sophisticated about space issues, or especially curious, even the “strong supporters.”

      • Vladislaw

        Congress and the executive branch change NASA. Every President has talked about NASA using more commercial since Nixon, every President since Reagan have tried rewrite NASA’s mandate to include more commercial.

        Every Congress since Apollo ended have fought to maintain the pork for their district and state. These two forces have been working against each other and NASA is the child of divorced parents fighting for that child.

        So Congress writes the checks so they have kept the lead on control and have kept the pork premium in place. That premuim adds anywere from 1 to 10 times the cost of a project. NASA have been listed as THEE most dangerous agency to have schedule and budget overruns.. they have lead this list for over 20 years.

        Apollo was sold to the NATION by making sure almost every single district got a small peice of the pie.

        To get an idea of the difference in yesterday’s space program and what it mean’t to the congressional districts, look at just the mercury program:

        “The project was 22 months delayed counting from the start until the first orbital mission.[184] It had a dozen prime contractors, 75 major subcontractors, and about 7200 third-tier subcontractors, whom together employed two million persons.[184] An estimate of its cost made by NASA in 1969 gave $392.6 million ($1.71 billion adjusted for inflation[254]), broken down as follows: Spacecraft: $135.3 million, launch vehicles: $82.9 million, operations: $49.3 million, tracking operations and equipment: $71.9 million and facilities: $53.2 million”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Mercury

        Now take it to the Apollo program and one can see it was a huge cashcow for those congressional districts. When Apollo ended congress did not want to loose that spending and have fought against commercial from day one, all in the hopes of keeping those jobs in their home districts and the cost plus contracts coming to their contractors.

        • reader

          “It had a dozen prime contractors”

          NASA didnt learn from that lesson. If they really wanted to go anywhere, thats how they would propose new exploration architectures.
          See how military is getting more C-17s than they know what they can do with. ” It produces jobs in 43 states.”

          They are also sending new C-27Js directly to boneyard ..

          • Vladislaw

            NASA was never unified enough for that. You have plenty of divides going on inside NASA. Aeronautics versus Space. Manned versus unmanned, etc. You also had various NASA centers fighting each other for their own funding streams and priorities. Everyone fighting to protect their own feudal terrority.

          • Vladislaw

            you can fear monger and saber rattle and ALWAYS get more military spending. People continually try and do the same thing for NASA. The mantra in the 50′s and 60′s was the Russians are coming the Russians are coming. Today it is the Chinese are coming the Chinese are coming. But fear mongering about space just does not move the voters. You can even try fear mongering asteroid hits and still no pressure on congress to increase space spending.

            For me I believe it is the wrong tactic. Government spending alone will never open up the space frontier it just isn’t enough. It will be speculation on new resources.

            We would be better off hiring someone named Custer, make him an astronaut, send him to the hills of shakelton crater and have him pick up a rock and shout “GOLD” while our Government abandons the Outer Space Treaty and says America will support any mineral and land rights claims …

        • mike shupp

          Fine. You hate NASA. Noted.
          What does that have to do with this poll?

          • reader

            No, i dont hate NASA. I think they could be much more clever leveraging congressional politics to their benefit by coming up with much politically smarter proposals. CxP for example wasnt that, whereas Apollo was

  • DCSCA

    Polling data is an amusing exercise for the beancounter and number crunching crowd but not a very reliable guide for policy planning by leaders. Kennedy wasn’t polling Americans before he tossed his cap over the wall of space, pointed to Luna and said ‘we’re going there.’ That decision was made by a small group of leaders who them persuaded the nation to follow through. There will never be a deep. broad ground swell for q vigorous space program in america– it’s essentially a discretionary expenditure– ‘technical life insurance’ as Frank Borman once labeled it, for the nation. Ponying up for the pormiums is never going to be easy. The question is, for the U.S., does it want to maintain leadership in this fielf or simply surrender it to other nations, much as earlier powers in other eras and fields of endeavor have as well. THe American Century was born on 12/7/41 and pretty much ended on 9/11/01. And it is clear the PRC wants to hallmark this century as theirs– and one of the most visible branding efforts is their efforts in space. It remains to be seen f America will meet the challenge or, as Britain did in another century in other endeavors, simply shrug and say ‘been thre, done that’– and let leadership fade.

    • Hiram

      “Polling data is an amusing exercise for the beancounter and number crunching crowd but not a very reliable guide for policy planning by leaders.”

      Excuse me? Polling is the prime tool for policy planning by political leaders. That’s the way it’s been for a long time. I agree that it probably shouldn’t be, but that’s the way it is.

      As for Kennedy, polling wasn’t as dominant as it is now, but he was confronted by polls showing that the American public thought that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. His response to that was to organize an effort that would reassure the public about our technological capabilities. That’s what the Apollo program was for. That’s all it was for. That was an era in which technological leadership was well expressed by human spaceflight. That simply isn’t the case anymore. So if technological leadership is important, we shouldn’t waste our time expressing it by launching humans on rockets. There may be other good reasons for launching humans on rockets, but that isn’t one anymore. I have to assume that China isn’t trying to express leadership, but equivalence. Equivalence is fantastically important, because if you want to be perceived as a partner, you’d better be equivalent.

      • Malmesbury

        “As for Kennedy, polling wasn’t as dominant as it is now, but he was confronted by polls showing that the American public thought that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable.”

        In many ways Kennedy was the first of the modern presidents – he and his team integrated polling and media strategies into his day to day operations to a far great extent than any previous presidency. Hence the whole “Kennedy media” thing – he and his people made the White House Press feel part of Camelot.

        The moon speech was carefully crafted to appeal to a structured demographic group. And was carefully sold politically by Johnson.

        One of the problems with the Kennedy legacy is the belief that the president just needs to stand up and say “we are going to x” or “we are doing y”.

        It isn’t “leadership” that is the problem. Any fool can hire a speech writer. It is the carrying through of the proposal at the political and managerial levels that is where the real work is.

        • Hiram

          “The moon speech was carefully crafted to appeal to a structured demographic group. And was carefully sold politically by Johnson.”

          I have to say that it was crafted to appeal to the group, which was very large at the time, who wanted to beat the @#$%^&*( out of the Soviets. That’s precisely what it was for. Now, we don’t like to tell people we’re trying to beat the @#$%^&*( out of them. That’s not nice. No way was Kennedy going to get up at Rice and tell everyone that we were going to beat the @#$%^&*( out of the Soviets. So he called it “exploration”. That’s a proud word his virulent competitive spirit hid behind. We continue to hide behind that word. We shouldn’t call Kennedy’s Rice speech a “Moon speech”. We should really call it a “beat the @#$%^&*( out of the Soviets” speech. Because that’s what it was. The Moon was a sidelight. That revisionism offends our sense of pride and our reverence for JFK, but it’s the truth.

    • Vladislaw

      Ya and Kennedy was not interested in space, as he told webb. Kennedy also did not want to do it alone.. he wanted a joint mission with russia.

      “”I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

      This speech, given on May 25, 1961, occurred just before Kennedy was to ask the Russians if they would partake in a joint exploration of space. At the time, the Soviet Union was significantly more advanced in space shuttle technology. Nikita Khrushchev eventually agreed to a joint mission but Kennedy was assassinated before the agreement was finalized. On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong realized Kennedy’s goal when he took one small step for man on the moon.”
      http://www.realclearpolitics.com/lists/bold_presidential_promises/reagan.html?state=play

  • Hiram

    Assuming this poll is statistically valid (though 1170 is a pretty small number), I am drawn, in particular, to the age groupings, and the differences in their perspective. For the older participants, we’re looking at the Apollo generation. For the younger generation, we’re looking at what could represent the evolution of U.S. taxpayer perspectives.

    More younger people than older people seem to generally

    - feel that NASA and the U.S. space program aren’t that important
    - feel that space colonization is an important option for inhabitants of a fragile Earth
    - feel that it isn’t important that the U.S. leads in [space?] exploration and discovery
    - feel that a strong space mission doesn’t help America dominate
    - feel that human excellence deserves support
    - feel that space is not an important element of our defense strategy
    - feel that NASA’s budget is too high
    - feel that investment in space exploration is important to third world countries
    - feel that it’s probably important for someone to go to Mars
    - feel that an even public/private investment mix is less important for space

    I think I got that right, though some numbers are certainly closer than others.

    No surprise that young people would be much more willing to go into space than older people!

    Now, in all fairness, one can look at this distribution as a property of age, rather than of generation. That is, once the younger people grow up, their perspectives might well evolve to match those who are now older. I’m not sure that’s a valid assumption, though. But in either case it informs space marketing strategies.

    I find it a little disappointing that the survey didn’t ask the public what it thought space exploration was for, and the role that human space flight played in achieving those goals.

  • James

    What the polling data also reveals, is that the more educated you are, the more you see the value in NASA. Not sure what the respondents had in their heads about ‘what NASA does’, and it safe to assume that the more educated have a better grasp as to the scope of NASA work, and that it does a lot more than just ‘fly shuttle’.

    Perhaps this educated crowd understands the value of learning new things about the environment we live in (Space Science,,not Human Space Flight) and the potential benefits, tangible benefits, this befalls on society..

    Where as the younger crowd, probably not as plugged into the scope of NASA, and more cynical of the older generation, only knows of Human Space Flight, and the Hubble (astronaut tended) and does not see the value in ‘conquering’ space (Human Space Flight).

    • Hiram

      “What the polling data also reveals, is that the more educated you are, the more you see the value in NASA.”

      This is true, but national decision-making isn’t based on what educated people think. It’s based on what voters think and, I guess, the extent to which voters can be educated. You don’t get more votes for having more education. I think the younger crowd is actually a lot more aware of space science than the older crowd, because the triumphs of human spaceflight are not really part of their generation.

      • James

        If by “Triumph” you mean the Apollo era, than yes, I agree, the younger set it not familiar with the triumph part. However, they grew up with the Shuttle launching every few months for 30 years. That was probably their first awareness of NASA; that and probably Hubble.

        • Hiram

          Yes, I meant “triumph” as Apollo. I’m not sure Shuttle established any real popular triumphs, though we all know it was the crucial tool that made ISS possible. As to HST, that was a science triumph that human space flight attached itself to. That is, the EVA work done on HST was marvelous, but no less marvelous than many other EVA tasks. That work was of profound importance because of the profound importance of HST, and not profound importance of human space flight.

  • Robert G. Oler

    any breakdowns on age? Or did I miss that RGO

  • Mark R. Whittington

    The cynic might point out that support for NASA tends to be less among the Obama coalition (i.e. young, female, minority, low information.) I also notice that the poll was among all adults, not as useful as one taken from registered or likely voters when considering the politics.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Low information voters? LOL it was the right wing that salivated over Dean Chambers and his unskewed polls (you even bought into them) and has gotten one foreign policy gig after another wrong…and the right wing that is buying into the “Chinese are taking over the Moon” nonesense without any real proof.

      That support for the “big government” space policies of NASA is lowest among the young is not all that surprising. for the most part they have a life that has nothing to do with human space flight and have seen no relevance of the space station or SLS or Orion changing their lives. these are all programs supported mostly by people who are living in an era most of todays “youth” think is ancient history

      RGO

    • seamus

      “It’s always tempting to read more into a single poll’s results than is recommended…”

  • amightywind

    NASA came of age in parallel with the turbo welfare state. It is not surprising that some groups who benefit from that state would eventually see NASA as unwelcome competitor for government funding.

    • Robert G. Oler

      NASA is a “turbo welfare program” or technowelfare program. RGO

      • Malmesbury

        “NASA is a “turbo welfare program” or technowelfare program”

        Exactly. Since the beginning, minority groups have seen NASA as a welfare program for white, middle-class people.

        This is one of the reasons that NASA worked so hard to improve minority representation in the workforce (particularly the public face).

        The problem is all the reruns of Apollo on TV – lots of white guys in ties.

        • Robert G. Oler

          In my view NASA’s problems are not exclusively or even as a majority (grin) with minority groups…I think lot a of institutions from the DoD to social programs to whatever most of the public no longer thinks that the programs “work for them”

          Look this poll is entertaining but almost meaningless…unless you put numbers to it. Had in 1984 I think NASA been honest with Ed Boland and instead of quoting 8 billion for a space station of 8 Americans they had said “well its gonna take 200 some odd billion in constant dollars and almost you know well 30 years to get to where we keep two Americans on the staition and more or less pay for 2 Russians and 2 “someone elses” would we have gotten the space station?

          Iff you took a poll and said “its gonna take 200 billion to send humans back to the Moon and build a tiny outpost for oh 3 or 4 there..” what do you think that the answer would be?

          Had Bush told the true and foreseeable cost of the war…what would the American people had said.

          Its interesting that the GOP nominee in 2012 won his primary battle by pounding Newt on the space/Moon thing…and the GOP right wing was right there. go figure

          we need to stop the question “where should NASA go” and instead ask “what should NASA do” to be fair we need to ask that about a lot of things the federal government spends money on RGO

          • Ben Russell-Gough

            FWIW, the ISS we have is not the machine that the SSF project of the early 1980s was meant to produce. That said, NASA does have a tendency to have it major projects slowly mutate into something else as the political winds shift, doesn’t it?

            I’m sure that, if people were asked ‘what should NASA’ do, there would be some pretty fantastical responses based on a lack of understanding about what it can do.

  • Neil Shipley

    Ha. NASA is going to ‘lose’ again. SpaceX have recently announced a new SC methalox engine. Used in the current F9 configuration, this potential vehicle will put 90mt into leo, more than SLS Block 1 and a heavy potentially 200+mt more than SLS block 2. Accordingly to SpaceX this is their last engine family development and will be used on their Mars vehicles. Lunar phuff!
    I predict it will fly before 2017 and even then, that makes no allowance for inevitable slips and budget overruns in the SLS program.
    In addition, it will totally eat any competition in the launch market. SpaceX doesn’t just want to compete, they want to own it all
    Sorry for the slightly OT post Jeff.

    • seamus

      Wait, SpaceX is competing with NASA? You sure see some strange opinions, far detached from reality, when politics and space policy are mixed.

      • Malmesbury

        “Wait, SpaceX is competing with NASA?”

        While not going for the hyper ventilating stuff above, yes they are in a certain sense.

        The size of the new Methane/LOX system they are building has not been publicly defined.

        The minimum is probably that a single core configuration can lift more to GTO than Falcon Heavy. A “heavy” version of such a design would out lift nearly every conceivable version of SLS.

        It is worth noting that SpaceX seems to share their plans with NASA quite freely – NASA were first to know about the performance of F9.1 for example. And NASA has become very keen on the maximum possible versions of SLS….

        Once you look at this, the hostility to SpaceX in certain parts of NASA make perfect sense. Some people see their jobs as being under threat.

    • Hiram

      “NASA is going to ‘lose’ again. SpaceX have recently announced a new SC methalox engine.”

      What exactly is NASA going to “lose”. Oh, you mean building rocket engines, like it hasn’t done in decades? NASA lost that a long time ago, and is pretty happy with the way it turned out, which is contracting to industry to build them. If such an engine, in F9, can cheaply loft 90 mt to LEO, NASA will be delighted to buy it.

  • Malmesbury

    “If such an engine, in F9, can cheaply loft 90 mt to LEO, NASA will be delighted to buy it.”

    Try and imagine all the workers on SLS standing up together and saying “Verily – tis a sign! Our work here is done”. And quietly walking towards the exit.

    I find it rather difficult, to be honest.

    Given the fight by Congress et al to keep their pet HLV, I can’t see SLS going quietly into the good night.

    It does make me giggle, though. You’d have thought that the size of the new engine would have made some of the congress criters think. Or why SpaceX wanted 39A… I wonder when the panic will start. My guess is after the first public announcement of the new vehicle.

    • Hiram

      “While not going for the hyper ventilating stuff above, yes they are in a certain sense.”

      Well, the workers on SLS are mainly the prime contractors. You’re exactly right about SpaceX competition, but it’s not with NASA. When SLS starts looking to NASA and Congress like a “bad deal” in terms of cost/kg it’ll get cancelled. Well, it should. At that point, NASA will shrug (and maybe indeed say “Verily – tis a sign”), but the prime will feel thoroughly beaten by the SpaceX competition. In terms of the NASA budget, it’ll make absolutely no difference. Just whose pocket it eventually ends up in. The pocket of the SLS prime contractor will end up being a LOT lighter. The pocket of NASA won’t change a bit.

      • Malmesbury

        “The pocket of the SLS prime contractor will end up being a LOT lighter. The pocket of NASA won’t change a bit.”

        You are making the mistake of assuming that large organisations (such as NASA) have such a unified purpose that closing down individual major projects is easy. The loyalty of most in such an organisation is 1) program, 2) centre & 3) organisation. Closing down SLS will mean a massive fight with NASA by the centres which will lose work.

        In congress, yes few individuals are direct backers of SLS/Orion. However these programs are part of a brokered deal. Support for them has been bartered for support for other program’s to build an interlocking coalition. This is why SLS popped up immediately Constellation was cancelled.

        I find the attacks on Bolden by the pro SLS groups entertaining. He is trying to save it as much as is possible! The SLS advocates demand that he charge up the Hill and bang his fist on the tableto get billions for missions/payloads for SLS. This would be actually an attack on SLS – in politics, demanding billions more implies a big over run. Which implies that the sponsors of the program (the politicians) have been had. Alternatively it would be seen as a demand to nick someone else’s pork money – which would be seen as an attack on the current political settlement. The asteroid heist was an attempt to union a mission which did not require further mega expenditures in hardware dev – giving SLS/Orion an objective within the political settlement.

        Equally the dash for 130 ton variant is required to outsize the coming MCT Heavy option from SpaceX. Given past behaviour, NASA is fully aware internally of SpaceX plans. If nothing else, the reason why they got 39A was knowledge of exactly what they want to launch there.

        • Hiram

          “Closing down SLS will mean a massive fight with NASA by the centres which will lose work.”

          Sort of like shutting down Constellation, no? Been there, done that. Never said it was easy. But the job losses in the demise of Cx were contractors (whether officed at the centers or not). No civil service jobs were lost. The NASA budget remained the same. Civil service employees were matrixed elsewhere. Now, there is no question that civil service engineers and technologists at some centers who dream about HLV will get pissed if SLS is shut down. But we’re talking about pockets and how heavy they are, not morale.

          Yes, SLS popped up to save contractors. Many of those contractors are employed at MSFC and JSC, which is why the congressfolk from those locales pushed SLS so hard. But NASA doesn’t feel threatened fiscally by SpaceX. Boeing, ATK, and I suppose Lockheed do.

          But that’s exactly right about demanding new money for SLS payloads to justify SLS. That will come across as a project overrun to Congress. SLS desperately needs something cheap to launch. Forget about gravity wells. The original asteroid heist — sending humans way out to rendezvous with one that was coming close, was the cheapest of all. That’s why it was a major frustration to the SLS team when it was proven to be unimplementable. Catching an asteroid and hauling it back involves some added expense, for a catcher’s mitt and a big SEP, but that’s still cheap compared with a lander.

          • reader

            The difference between civil servants and contractors is this – one group results in rather large campaign contributions, the other does not.

            Guess which one has more political influence on the hill.

    • The purpose of SLS/Orion is to protect the jobs of employees working for space centers and contractors in the states and districts of the members of House and Senate space subcommittees. Those members don’t care if it ever flies.

      One hundred Falcon Heavy launches won’t change their minds. They’ll simply declare SLS/Orion to be a “backup,” which they already claim it is to go to the ISS, incredibly laughable.

    • Coastal Ron

      Malmesbury said:

      Given the fight by Congress et al to keep their pet HLV, I can’t see SLS going quietly into the good night.

      I haven’t seen broad support for the SLS in Congress, only the usual NASA-related district & state support (AL, TX & FL).

      The inflection point that we’re waiting for is where someone will point out that we’re spending $Billions on a rocket that has no funded use, and that it should either be cancelled or Congress needs to increase NASA’s budget by a significant amount so it can afford to use the SLS and operate the SLS-sized missions resulting for using the SLS.

      There are only 7 years until the SLS is supposed to be operational, and it is likely to take at least 10 years to get an SLS-sized payload defined, designed, built, tested and ready for launch – and NASA needs enough money to do that at least twice per year for decades. NASA can’t do that with it’s current budget, even if the ISS is cancelled after 2020.

      Building the SLS has created a MASSIVE budget mismatch that can only be solved by either canceling the SLS or massively increasing NASA’s budget. One of those is more likely than the other…

  • Andrew Swallow

    The personal is political. To react to this news Joe and Mrs Sixpack need answers to two questions:
    1) How is China landing on the Moon a danger to them, their friends and their family?
    2) Why does giving NASA money to land on the Moon make them safer? (Or richer?)

  • guest

    “I wish someone would do a poll where NASA budget is shown next to and contrasted to NIH and NSF budgets.”

    “how would polls would turnout if translated to household”….”this type of information would be useful…if comparisons could be made.”

    “Apollo was sold to the NATION”

    “The moon speech was carefully crafted to appeal to a structured demographic”

    “More younger people than older people seem to generally
    - feel that NASA and the U.S. space program aren’t that important
    - feel that space colonization is important
    - feel that human excellence deserves support”

    “the polling data reveals…that the more educated you are, the more you see the value in NASA”

    All of these statements when put together tells me that it is absolutely critical to make sure young people are educated about NASA, how NASA spending compares with other parts of government, and why specific aspects of space flight are important.

    NASA seems to be going the other way. They seem totally uncoordinated as far as what they educate the public about, and this past year the NASA management (I would not call it leadership since they seem to not be) wanted to divest themselves entirely of educating the public about space and instead turn that responsibility over to the NSF, Smithsonian, or DOE, none of whom have a dog in the fight.

    If NASA is not educating the public and in particular the younger people, then I think that is why the polls give the results this one shows.

    If NASA fails to convince the public that there is a reason for spending on space, then all hope is lost.

    • Coastal Ron

      guest said:

      If NASA fails to convince the public that there is a reason for spending on space, then all hope is lost.

      What is the reason?

      And what specifically should “NASA” be doing in the nations classrooms?

  • guest

    I think many reasons have been laid out; a good set can be found at:
    http://www8.nationalacademies.org/aseboutreach/publicviewhumanspaceflight.aspx

    This should be developed into a coherent coordinated set that establish different possible directions.

    Comparisons with other alternative expenditures, including military and social programs, should be incorporated.

    A series of short classroom lessons should be developed around these for use in the schools. They should identify the important questions, and reasons for and against. This can be done in the context of science, technology, social studies, history, which are several of the subjects that are supposed to be taught in the nations’ classrooms. The lessons should take from a couple days to a week or two. Most classes do not spend more than that on a given subject.

    Then the young people can be educated. Within a few years some intelligence could be placed behind the decisions to be made.

    • Hiram

      “I think many reasons have been laid out; a good set can be found at:
      http://www8.nationalacademies.org/aseboutreach/publicviewhumanspaceflight.aspx

      Those are “good reasons” to you, and “good reasons” to the authors, but nowhere is their goodness established as national consensus. Those white papers were accepted from anyone and everyone and, frankly, a lot of them are just trash. Many aren’t even “reasons”, but implementation strategies and, as such, were formally non-compliant. As in, since we can, then we should.

      I do look forward to the conclusions of the committee that these papers were aimed at. Those folks, as astute leaders in their fields, were asked to put together a credible and coherent case for human space flight, which is a lot more than what this stack of random papers is.

      The rationale used to be “exploration”, but no one really understands what that means anymore with regard to human spaceflight, except to behave like historical explorers. Boots! Flags! Ships! Courage! Another flavor of rationale is geopolitical technological exceptionalism, for which there are really many approaches. So what needs to be pointed out is what human spaceflight offers here that other approaches don’t. The defensive implications of human spaceflight, with brave pilots in high performance vehicles going to faraway lands, are nowhere near as meaningful as they used to be, in our contemporary age of reconnaisance satellites, guided missles and UAVs.

      • anonymous

        Among the panoply of issues we face as a nation, a society, and even as individuals, civil space is not really that important. Hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. Civil space is a “nice to have”. It’s at the tippy-top of Maslow’s pyramid.

        Educating and inspiring people about space is tricky, and generally comes in one of two varieties. In my experience, people respond strongly and positively when they see something *impressive* that has *actually* been done and therefore is *real*. For example, Hubble pics, Mars lander, dangerous EVA, first time launch. the second variety is when people yawn (or more politely feign interest) when you tell them about a mission you’re *going to do* some years from now, such as send people to Mars/Moon, etc. In short, talk is cheap and people want action.

        My advice for NASA to better connect with students and citizens: *stop proseltyzing* about your wish list, and focus on delivering results in the near-term to keep people tuned in and turned on. NASA’s biggest danger is that people are bored with it and don’t really care. Focus on the near-term, under-promise and over-deliver. Right now, NASA is doing the exact opposite, to it’s own peril.

  • anonymous

    Among the panoply of issues we face as a nation, a society, and even as individuals, civil space is not really that important. Hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. Civil space is a “nice to have”. It’s at the tippy-top of Maslow’s pyramid.

    Educating and inspiring people about space is tricky, and generally comes in one of two varieties. In my experience, people respond strongly and positively when they see something *impressive* that has *actually* been done and therefore is *real*. For example, Hubble pics, Mars lander, dangerous EVA, first time launch. the second variety is when people yawn (or more politely feign interest) when you tell them about a mission you’re *going to do* some years from now, such as send people to Mars/Moon, etc. In short, talk is cheap and people want action.

    My advice for NASA to better connect with students and citizens: *stop proseltyzing* about your wish list, and focus on delivering results in the near-term to keep people tuned in and turned on. NASA’s biggest danger is that people are bored with it and don’t really care. Focus on the near-term, under-promise and over-deliver. Right now, NASA is doing the exact opposite, to it’s own peril.

  • guest

    Hiram said “nowhere is their goodness established as national consensus. Those white papers were accepted from anyone and everyone and, frankly, a lot of them are just trash”

    You’ll never get to a national consensus if you throw out the rationales presented without reviewing them. As I said, they sneed “to be developed into a coherent coordinated set that establish different possible directions.”

    anonymous said “civil space is not really that important…people are bored with it and don’t really care…focus on delivering results in the near-term”

    Maybe its not that important to you, but to many of us it is what we have focused on our entire lives and if people do not know enough to care about it, then that is why we need to educate them. Near term is ISS, and I don’t think it is so much that people are bored, most are not even aware ISS exists and they therefore never think about it. Longer term than ISS there is no direction. In fact many of the adults and students I talk to think people are still going to the moon, or at least they were when Shuttle was flying.

    Which is why people, starting in school, starting in the early grades and continuing right through high school need to be educated.

    • Hiram

      “You’ll never get to a national consensus if you throw out the rationales presented without reviewing them.”

      I wasn’t saying that you throw them out. I was just saying that we don’t assume that those are the answers. It’s not these reasons that should be developed into a coherent coordinated set, but these reasons can certainly contribute to such a set. But you are correct that to the extent these white papers are at least considered by the Human Spaceflight committee, they will have done their job.

      “My advice for NASA to better connect with students and citizens: *stop proseltyzing* about your wish list, and focus on delivering results in the near-term to keep people tuned in and turned on. NASA’s biggest danger is that people are bored with it and don’t really care. Focus on the near-term, under-promise and over-deliver. Right now, NASA is doing the exact opposite, to it’s own peril.”

      Yes and no. NASA certainly “delivers” a lot more cool concepts than it does results. Then again, if what NASA is delivering on ISS as a result is a new pump for a cooling system, that’s kind of a yawner. But if there is a real direction, then that’s what the nation needs to understand, and even new cooling pumps can be marketed as a step in that direction. But right now, NASA has no clear direction besides mission concepts. That NASA proselytizes about mission concepts is because they’re a cheap way to assert technological creativity if not technological accomplishment. As in, “we’re good because we have cool and carefully considered ideas!”

      So that advice is generally good but, you know, it’s not really advice for NASA. NASA is an implementation agency. It’s about how to get things done and whether we can do things. It’s not about what we should do. Administrations and Congresses have leaned on NASA to come up with directions, and NASA just isn’t built to articulate directions. VSE was marvelous because it didn’t come from NASA, but from a higher authority. I think that’s what you’re pointing out. Because when you try to thrill people with accomplishments that may help us do what we might want to think about doing, as opposed to going in the direction that we’ve agreed to go, it doesn’t have much impact.

  • guest

    Hiram said:
    NASA is an implementation agency. It’s about how to get things done and whether we can do things. It’s not about what we should do.

    I disagree.
    NASA is the preeminent civil space organization in the US. In every case, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, and ISS, NASA decided what needed to be done, what made sense, and how they could most effectively do the job (actually in the case of ISS I don’t think effectiveness entered into it)and NASA laid out the plan, sold it to the people’s representatives and the President. People like von Braun, Gilruth, Faget, Beggs, did not sit on their duffs waiting for someone else to come up with an idea. They were dreaming; they were designing; they had a plan and they wanted to move out with their plans. NASA did not always get everything it wanted but NASA led the effort to define and sell the program.

    You make the same mistake that I hear from many of the very top level NASA managers-and I think it comes from this ops mentality we have been in for a quarter century: “we just fly the missions-we don’t make the decisions on whether what we are doing makes sense” – we need to wait until someone (POTUS, Congress, OMB…) decides. I think that is wrong. This idea is crap. NASA knows that its budget has been approximately .5% for 40 years. If NASA offers up some really good rationale, the budget might hold steady or even go up incrementally-I don’t think it will double or triple as the last Administrator was counting on or as others now propose, but if the NASA management offers nothing, which is what they have been doing, then NASA could easily wind up getting no budget in the future. That is where NASA leadership has failed.

    • Hiram

      Nope. That don’t fly.

      NASA comes up with exciting possibilities that it thinks it can pull off. That’s important. But it’s up to elected officials above them to say *this is what is good for the country*, or *this is how those plans are consistent with our greater goals*. NASA doesn’t get to say that. They could suggest it, but no one is going to believe that they speak for the country. The ops mentality is justified for agency officials. That’s what they get paid to do.

      von Braun is a great example. von Braun said, gee, we could go to the Moon. I know how to make it happen. He was dreaming; he was designing; he had a plan and he wanted to move out with his plans. But it was JFK who said that we would go to the Moon, and this was why. This was why going to the Moon made a difference to the nation. This was why it was worth it. The idea is decidedly NOT crap that NASA doesn’t make the decisions on whether what they are doing makes sense. They can decide whether it makes sense technologically, but no way can they decide if it makes sense politically, economically, socially, and culturally. In no way can they decide whether it improves our quality of life. Nope, I’m not going to entrust a bunch of engineers, scientists, and technology managers to make those judgements, and neither should you.

      If you aren’t an elected official, you don’t get to decide what’s good for the nation. You don’t call the shots. No way.

      So the Army ought to be able to start wars, eh? Hey, they know more about wars than anyone else. They know exactly what they could do to make us do well in one. So let’s fill up their tank, give ‘em the keys, and let them decide who to kill and blow up.

      Let’s get specific. NASA wants to send people to Mars. Someday. Somehow. It has good ideas about how to make that happen. But WHY? What will actually be accomplished by that that is meaningful to the nation? NASA has never come up with any compelling answers to that. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be important to send humans to Mars, but I want to hear someone with more purview than propulsion technology, life support, and exobiology expertise telling me that.

    • Coastal Ron

      guest said:

      NASA is the preeminent civil space organization in the US.

      Preeminent as in ONLY you mean. They would be “preeminent” no matter how good or bad they were because there are no alternatives.

      “In every case, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, and ISS, NASA decided what needed to be done, what made sense, and how they could most effectively do the job…”

      I disagree. NASA was assigned the task by the President of getting a man to the Moon and returning him safely, and that resulted in the Gemini and Apollo programs. You could say that NASA decided about Skylab, but that was more a matter of figuring out what could be done with leftover assets, not creating something new.

      The NASA Administrator works for the President, and NASA can’t do anything without the President approving it.

      I guess it could be argued that the Shuttle was a NASA idea, but it was also a political way to keep the Apollo workforce going, and it had non-NASA goals that were a goal of the nation. Heck, even the ISS was only able to be done because it supported national goals, not NASA goals.

      Bottom line is that NASA does not control it’s own destiny, and it can’t go out and do lobbying for what it wants to do unless the President says they can.

  • guest

    NASA has to give the POTUS and Congress options and a logical way forward. I agree that they have to ultimately agree, direct, and fund, but if you are waiting for politicians to develop the options, then you’ll be waiting a long time.

    As Coastal Ron points out, Shuttle was a NASA idea.
    So was station, and James Beggs had to fight the OMB to get Reagan to adopt it. And as Coastal says “you could say NASA decided Skylab” (Apollo Applications). Actually NASA developed a list of options and the rationale for deciding on an Apollo manned moon landing rather than on a manned circum-lunar flight, or a space station…Kennedy made the choice after being presented with the options, the costs and the rationale. He did not develop the options on his own. He had a lot of help. And Gilruth, Faget and others were working the design of Mercury as a way to get a human into space (called MISS-Man in Space Soonest) and they won the argument over the USAF X-20. So every US manned space program started with a NASA initiative.

    “Preeminent as in only” – it is the NASA mission. It is why other organizations are not doing this. But as I said IF the NASA management fails to perform, there may soon be no NASA. So far I have not seen them propose a workable option. All I’ve heard is an AA say to break dance and get excited over the Asteroid Retrieval Mission. What’s the rationale?

    • SethG

      I agree that NASA is the one that has to put the options on the table. They also have to be capable of articulating a compelling rationale. Personally, i’m becoming concerned that the human spaceflight program has outlived its purpose. It may come back, but for the next decade or more, I would be happy with putting it on the backburner by flying out ISS until 2020 and deorbiting it, unless there is a real reason to keep it any longer. There is much more that’s useful, interesting, exciting and compelling on the robotic side. To this end, NASA should build the missions around the NRO telescopes, a mission to Europa, higher cadence small and medium science missions in each discipline. They have way better uses for the money.

      Maybe a bit harsh, but NASA has been held hostage for too long by the human spaceflight cult. It’s just not that interesting or compelling. It’s a big yawn and a huge drain. We deserve a better space program than what’s being served up by the human space dominated community.

    • Hiram

      Well of course NASA has to come up with implementation options. But those options need to be developed at the high level request of the Administration, and supported by Congress. It isn’t enough for NASA to say – hey we know how to land humans on the Moon! Ain’t that great? Because the Administration will say, well, that’s nice, but why should we do it in the first place? How are we goig to be able to convince the taxpayers that it is in their interest.

      The Administration needs to say, for example — OK, we need to expand the species. It is in our national interest to do that for this, that, and the other reason. That means making it possible for humanity to travel through the solar system. NASA, tell us how we can do that.

      Or, they can say, for example — OK, we desperately need to develop resources on the Moon. We absolutely need that unobtainium there, or our nation will collapse. NASA, tell us how to do that.

      That’s what was special about VSE. The Administration (and Congress) believed there was a mission to be served by expanding human space flight into the solar system, and they told NASA to figure out how to do it. NASA, of course, screwed the implementation up. VSE was exactly right. Constellation buggered it up.

      No, NASA doesn’t have to be capable of articulating a compelling rationale. They have to be capable of articulating a compelling implementation. You need to get straight the difference between those two words. Many people don’t understand their difference. We’re just saying that because, so far, aside from VSE, the Administration and Congress haven’t been able to articulate a compelling rationale. NASA doesn’t know how to argue economics, politics, defense, and cultural drivers. NASA is engineers and scientists. THEY DON’T DO THAT. It would be nice if they could, but we can’t expect that of them. It’s just unfair.

      But yes, I’ll agree wholeheartedly with SethG that NASA has been held hostage by the human spaceflight cult. Exploration, of course, has been rejiggered to mean human spaceflight. I think human spaceflight is exciting, but it’s not clear what it’s for, and I look to our leaders to tell me what it’s for.

      • SethG

        Okay Hiram. I think you make some good points about the role of the White House and Congress, though I still believe a lot of the drive and rationale still needs to come from NASA. There’s also a bit of the chicken and the egg to it.

        VSE was special circumstance…following Columbia and CAIB report. The VSE still left a helluva lot of flexibility and room for what sort of programs to implement. The milestone deadlines in VSE were not really binding. Congress didnt quite endorse VSE as most people think. In the NASA authorization of 2005, Congress really only made it a goal to go to the Moon by 2020, and even then had caveats and other contravening messages about maintaining balance among science, aero and human space. VSE/Steidle vs VSE/Griffin just show how big a contrast is possible. The Bush Administration basically got tired of NASA’s doubletalking, misdirection, and caginess and left them to “make their own bed”. Cant say as I blame them.

        Obama’s new plan for technology (after proposing killing Constellation) was probably the right thing to do (Constellation was unexecutable and investing in technology is desperately needed). But who was left to make the case for the new Obama plan? NASA was. Bolden specifically. And he repeadtedly failed to articulate a compelling rationale despite being given several chances to come back to Congress to clarify the story. In short, NASA failed to make the case, lt a vacuum as to what to do, and good ol Bill Nelson stepped up with a few other sidekicks from “Constellation states” and wrote SLS and Orion into law, complete with performance requirements. The House meanwhile was more concerned with making sure the outgoing/retiring Chairman of the Science Committee had a NASA bill on his resume of accomplishments, and with little time remaning on the calendar in his lastdays in Congress, decided to pick up the Senate bill and pass it without amendment. Even the subcommittee chair, Gabby Giffords, recognized that it was a bad bill. But turns out the majority wanted to give the chairman a going away present (they didnt really care about the substance).

        Moral: Congress and WH do play an important and necessary role, but NASA needs be an active participant with a seat at the table.

        • Hiram

          I think we’re largely in agreement here.

          You’re right that a lot of drive needs to come from NASA and NASA has to be an active participant. NASA has to come up with credible hooks that the Administration can decide to hang it’s hat on. But the ultimate rationale is the responsibility of our leaders. NASA can do concept studies that will say “Hey, we CAN do this that or the other. Ain’t that cool?” But it’s up to our leaders to tell us why it’s worth doing, and we should note well that it’s not worth doing because it’s cool.

  • SethG

    Okay Hiram. I think you make some good points about the role of the White House and Congress, though I still believe a lot of the drive and rationale still needs to come from NASA. There’s also a bit of the chicken and the egg to it.

    VSE was special circumstance…following Columbia and CAIB report. The VSE still left a helluva lot of flexibility and room for what sort of programs to implement. The milestone deadlines in VSE were not really binding. Congress didnt quite endorse VSE as most people think. In the NASA authorization of 2005, Congress really only made it a goal to go to the Moon by 2020, and even then had caveats and other contravening messages about maintaining balance among science, aero and human space. VSE/Steidle vs VSE/Griffin just show how big a contrast is possible. The Bush Administration basically got tired of NASA’s doubletalking, misdirection, and caginess and left them to “make their own bed”. Cant say as I blame them.

    Obama’s new plan for technology (after proposing killing Constellation) was probably the right thing to do (Constellation was unexecutable and investing in technology is desperately needed). But who was left to make the case for the new Obama plan? NASA was. Bolden specifically. And he repeadtedly failed to articulate a compelling rationale despite being given several chances to come back to Congress to clarify the story. In short, NASA failed to make the case, lt a vacuum as to what to do, and good ol Bill Nelson stepped up with a few other sidekicks from “Constellation states” and wrote SLS and Orion into law, complete with performance requirements. The House meanwhile was more concerned with making sure the outgoing/retiring Chairman of the Science Committee had a NASA bill on his resume of accomplishments, and with little time remaning on the calendar in his lastdays in Congress, decided to pick up the Senate bill and pass it without amendment. Even the subcommittee chair, Gabby Giffords, recognized that it was a bad bill. But turns out the majority wanted to give the chairman a going away present (they didnt really care about the substance).

    Moral: Congress and WH do play an important and necessary role, but NASA needs be an active participant with a seat at the table.

  • josh

    nasa has ample funding. just close down a couple of useless field centers and cancel their pet projects (jsc and msfc should be first on that list) and spend the money on cots-style programs and prizes. we could be on mars by 2025 that way.

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