Some Americans think that NASA’s top priority is sending humans to the moon or Mars

The majority of Americans think it is “important” that the US remains the global leader in space, but the private market will not ensure sufficient progress on its own, according to new polling data from the Pew Research Center..

Pew asked more than 10,000 American adults about their attitudes to commercial space, NASA, the global space race, and the prospects for space for the next 50 years. The poll comes at a time of major transformations in the space industry: rocket launches are now commonplace, space tourism is getting under way, and NASA’s Artemis program is advancing toward its second mission.

Notably, some Americans (only 12%) say sending astronauts to the moon or Mars should be NASA’s top priority. In contrast, 60% say one of their top priorities is asteroid monitoring, and five in ten say NASA should focus on monitoring Earth’s climate. This is in stark contrast to how Congress intends to allocate space agency funding for the next fiscal year, with lawmakers actually looking to increase the amount of funding allocated to Artemis and related programs, while putting science missions on the chopping block.

Most Americans – 65% – think NASA should play a key role in space exploration, even as private companies play a larger role in the overall space ecosystem. This view has hardly changed since Pew last asked the question in 2018.

Image Credit: Pew Research Center (opens in a new window)

Still, Americans’ view of private space companies is overall positive, even though many respondents don’t know them. For example, in the four areas Pew asked about – building rockets and spaceships; make important contributions to space exploration; opening space travel to more people; and limiting space junk – 40-50% of respondents said they were unsure.

Of those who said they were very familiar – two in ten respondents said they had heard a great deal about the private space company – they reported being very positive in their evaluation of the company.

In other areas, especially where the aerospace industry was formed fifty years ago, most Americans are different. For example, while 55% of Americans predict space tourism will become routine by 2073, 44% disagree. Similarly, 26% of respondents helping private space companies do a mostly poor job of containing orbital debris, while a nearly equal number, 21%, said they did a mostly good job. (53% answered unsure.)

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