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Few Americans believe that transporting humans to the moon or Mars should be NASA’s number one priority.

According to new Pew Research Center polling data, the majority of Americans believe it is “essential” for the U.S. to remain a global leader in space, but that private markets will not ensure sufficient progress on their own.

Pew surveyed over 10,000 American adults regarding their perspectives on commercial space, NASA, the global space competition, and the future of space exploration over the next half-century.

Rocket launches are now commonplace, space tourism is gaining traction, and NASA’s Artemis program is advancing toward its second mission as this survey is conducted.

Interestingly, only 12% of Americans said that dispatching astronauts to the moon or Mars should be one of NASA’s top priorities.

In contrast, sixty percent of respondents said that asteroid monitoring should be one of NASA’s top priorities, and fifty percent said that NASA should concentrate on monitoring Earth’s climate.

This is in stark contrast to how Congress intends to allocate the space agency’s budget for the next fiscal year, with lawmakers planning to increase funding for Artemis and associated programs while reducing funding for science missions.

The majority of Americans, 65 percent, believe NASA should play a central role in space exploration, even as private companies play a larger role in the space ecosystem as a whole.

This opinion has remained essentially unchanged since Pew posed the query in 2018.

Pew Research Center is credited for this image (link opens in a new window).

Even so, despite the fact that the majority of respondents were unfamiliar with private space companies, the majority of Americans have a favorable view of the industry.

For instance, in the four areas Pew inquired about – constructing rockets and spacecraft, making significant contributions to space exploration, expanding access to space travel, and limiting space debris – 40 to 50 percent of respondents were unsure.

Two-tenths of respondents indicated that they had heard a great deal about private space companies, and those who said they were very familiar with the companies expressed overwhelmingly positive opinions.

In other areas, such as the shape of the space industry in fifty years, Americans diverge significantly. 55% of Americans predict that space tourism will be commonplace by 2073, while 44% disagree.

Similarly, 26% of respondents believe private space companies are primarily ineffective at limiting orbital debris, while 21% believe they are primarily effective. (53% of respondents were unsure.)

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