Most Americans Agree on Where NASA Should Focus Their Efforts, According to a New Survey

Many a sci-fi movie franchise has proven America's love for wild space stories. But in terms of real-life science, the things we care about are much closer to home. When asked where NASA should focus its efforts, most Americans are surprisingly on the same page.

Get Your Priorities Straight

Where do you think NASA should focus its efforts: the moon, Mars, or Earth? Maybe Elon Musk should tap the brakes on his dream of sending a manned mission to Mars as soon as humanly possible. Deep-space exploration, it seems, is not as high a priority for the majority of Americans. According to a June 2018 Pew research survey, most Americans agree that NASA should prioritize protecting Earth over going to Mars or putting astronauts back on the moon. We don't need to watch a sci-fi film play out in real life just yet, apparently.

When we say most Americans, we mean it. Perhaps a little shockingly, Democrats and Republicans lean the same way on most of the survey's issues, and the opinions are nearly identical across generations. The survey asked for opinions about the U.S. space program and their preferences out of nine priorities ranging from searching from extraterrestrial life to conducting basic scientific research.

I (Still) Need My Space

The Earth-focused areas Americans want NASA to take a crack at are definitely reassuring. Most said NASA's top priority should be monitoring the Earth's climate system (63 percent) or monitoring asteroids and other objects that could potentially collide with our home planet (62 percent). For those concerned about the climate, though, 78 percent were Democrats and Independents. Just 44 percent of Republicans lean this way.

"The key takeaway from that study and others we have completed since is that politics is strongly related to public views about climate and energy issues," Cary Funk, the report's lead author, wrote in an email to Fast Company, "but is not strongly correlated with a host of other science-related issues including views about genetically modified foods and space."

A whopping 80 percent of Americans believe the U.S. investment in the close-to-home International Space Station (about $4 billion a year) is well spent. Actually, 42 percent of Americans and 63 percent of American millennials want to go into space themselves — but even they still have a focus on Earth. Of those itching for a personal space experience, 29 percent said the main draw would be to see the Earth from space, and 20 percent want to "learn more about the world." Still, Elon doesn't have to worry too much about citizens' Earth-first feelings; a whopping 72 percent of those surveyed still want the U.S. to lead the world in space exploration.

Want more about the current state of space exploration? Check out Tim Fernholz's book "Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto June 29, 2018

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