Jun 20 2008
Tuesday the Coalition for Space Exploration provided a fascinating peek into the space imaginations of the American public. Their Gallup Poll registers high support for space in general, suggesting the next race to space is not far away. But other responses, reminiscent of the pre-Sputnik public in the early-to-mid 1950s, show the next Maslow WIndow has not arrived. In general, recent Gallup Polls remain consistent with 21st Century Waves forecasts.
For example, 71% of respondents in April, 2008 said the U.S. was doing a good or a very good job maintaining its leadership in space; that’s up from 67% in March, 2006. Over the same time period, Americans who said the U.S. was doing either a good job or a very good job handling the War on Terror hovered near 50%. Obviously NASA has won back the confidence of the American people.
Softer support appeared when Gallup asked about increasing NASA’s budget from 1/6% to 1% (of the federal budget) to enable America’s return to the Moon and plans for Mars. This is equivalent to giving up one large pizza every 4 months, but only 52% said they would support it or strongly support it. Young people were most interested in Moon trips (and pizzas!); 62% of those between 18 and 34 either supported or strongly supported the Moon fee. This is consistent with 71% of respondents who felt that America’s space program inspires young people to study science, math, and/or technical fields — a lesson learned in the 1960s during the Apollo Maslow Window.
Widespread (71%) warm, fuzzy feelings for U.S. space leadership coupled with only a luke-warm embrace (52%) of a pizza-like NASA budget increase is consistent with our approaching the next Maslow Window (@ 2015), but having not yet entered it. (See Education Perspective, Wave Guide 4.)
Gallup also asked about China’s announced plan to send astronauts to the Moon (in 2017), beating NASA by a year. Between March, 2006 and April, 2008 during 3 surveys, only about 1/3 of those queried were somewhat concerned or very concerned. Likewise, the 5-year gap — from Shuttle retirement in 2010 to Constellation launch in 2015 — when NASA will have to depend on Russian launch vehicles to access the International Space Station, somewhat concerned or very concerned only 47% of respondents.
Why shouldn’t Americans be confident? It’s been over 40 years since anyone challenged U.S. dominance in space. However, this calm attitude is reminiscent of pre-Sputnik times in the mid-1950s during the International Geophysical Year just before Sputnik’s surprise launch shocked the nation. On the other hand, there is no reason for anxiety or fear of either China or Russia during the next 5 – 7 years, just the realization that the next race to space will be competitive.
Actually, competition is good for space. If you don’t agree, ask yourself: When was the last time any astronaut escaped from low Earth orbit into deep space?
It was too long ago: December, 1972 when Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt traipsed on the Moon. That was the end of the first competitive race to space. Hopefully, the 2015 Maslow Window will feature spectacular, international cosmic competition in a peaceful, constructive framework.