In-Depth Report

Public Opinion on Space: The Story of the Data

Patrick Chase
Sep 13 2021
The American public has always been largely supportive of NASA and space exploration in general, with varying degrees of intensity over the years. This support is often ‘soft’ though, with a large majority of Americans professing little deep knowledge about space and their priorities for NASA are often very Earth-centric. Polling from 2018-2021 shows some fairly clear trends in public opinion on space, and also reveals areas of significant uncertainty.

Our data pool includes five high quality polls taken from 2018 to 2021 conducted by Pew, C-SPAN/IPSOS, CBS, Morning Consult, and AP-NORC. These polls were extensive and focused largely or exclusively on space related issues, creating a large pool of data for review and analysis. These organizations have years of experience, and most have a rating of ‘B’ or higher from polling aggregator 538. We highly encourage all of our readers to further explore the crosstabs these pollsters provide, and every data point provided below is referenced to the proper organization for easy follow up,

The following sections are designed to break down this large pool of data to capture the full scope of what it’s telling us. Each section has both hard data points in list form, as well as a written analysis. If you want the super short version, the final section is a summary and key takeaways.

Section Guide
> Areas of Overwhelming Agreement
> Space Interest & Willingness to Travel
> Public Priorities/Rankings
> Money Issues
> Genuine Differences
> Fun Facts
> Takeaways
> Data Sources

Areas of Overwhelming Agreement

4 of 5 polls (all but Morning Consult) found that a number of NASA-related issues garnered widespread support among a very large segment of the public (>70%). The long list of data points includes:

80% see the ISS as a good investment for the country. (Pew)
80% believe space travel supports scientific discovery. (CSPAN/IPSOS)
79% say NASA contributes to scientific advancement. (CBS)
78% have an overall favorable impression of NASA. (CSPAN/IPSOS)
77% believe space travel inspires young people. (CSPAN/IPSOS)
75% believe in life elsewhere in the Universe, and 65% believe in intelligent alien life. (AP-NORC)
73% believe space travel helps with natural disaster response. (CSPAN/IPSOS)
73% say NASA contributes to pride and patriotism. (CBS)
71% agree NASA is necessary. (CSPAN/IPSOS)
70% say both NASA/private sector have a role to play in space exploration. (CBS)

These pollsters found widespread support for NASA, the International Space Station, and a general belief that NASA contributes to scientific discovery and the inspiration of young people. Support of this magnitude demonstrates that, broadly speaking, NASA and space exploration is a unifying and positive force in American society.

Space Interest & Willingness to Travel

There is a wide range of interest levels in space among the American public, from passionate believers to those with zero interest at all. Most people have actively participated in a ‘passive’ space related event or activity, but are far more hesitant when talking about traveling to space themselves.

Here are the data sets, courtesy of CSPAN/IPSOS, Morning Consult, and Pew.

56% of Americans say they are at least ‘familiar’ with space and/or astronomy.
21% consider themselves ‘very interested’ in space.
5% consider themselves to be ‘well informed’ on space issues.

75% of Americans have watched a lunar eclipse.
68% have watched shooting stars.
65% have watched a shuttle launch.
52% have watched a meteor shower.

Morning Consult
58% of Americans said they would definitely or most likely not be willing to travel into space even if price was no concern. This is up 10% from 2017.
15% said they were ‘very’ likely to participate in space travel, while 19% said they were ‘somewhat’ likely if price was no concern.
44% of men and 23% of women were likely to travel to space if price was no concern.
49% of Millenials and 46% of Gen Z said they would be willing to travel to space, versus just 32% of Gen X and 19% of Baby Boomers.

7% have heard 'a lot' about NASA/space.
22% have heard 'nothing' about NASA/space.
71% are in between.

These 7% of highly interested respondents have very different views than the others:
92% believe private space companies can control costs, compared to 47% of low information respondents.
95% believe private space companies will build safe and reliable spacecraft, compared to 60% of low information respondents.
75% believe scientific research should be a top NASA priority, compared to 31% of low information respondents.
Only 55% believe NASA is ‘essential’, compared to 45% who do not. 66% of medium information and 68% of low information respondents believe NASA is ‘essential’.
74% of the high information respondents would orbit the Earth, compared to 30% of low information respondents.

The data points to shades of interest in space, with a core group of highly passionate enthusiasts (anywhere from 10-20% of the population), a large group of people familiar with space but not avid followers (roughly 60-70%), and a group with no self-professed exposure or interest (roughly 20%).

As the data shows, the ‘passive’ astronomy activities are very popular, and most Americans have done them. When it comes to space tourism and seeing themselves in space, the majority of Americans are far more hesitant. The trendline is clear: the more ambitious the activity or destination, the smaller the circle of willing participants.

Those who would travel to orbit list uniqueness, curiosity, and seeing the Earth from orbit as their primary motivations. Those who would not travel to orbit list cost, fear, and health as their primary motivations.

There are also generational and gender gaps evident, with younger Americans and men being more likely to respond favorably to questions about traveling to space, and it’s reasonable to project that this pattern would likely hold true for the majority of the other questions as well.

If one was to graph Americans’ interest in space it would most likely resemble a proper bell curve, with the large majority of somewhat interested people bracketed by the die-hard fans and the actively interested taking up 15-20% on either side.

Future studies should look into other potential differences among respondents beyond generation and gender. There are also very interesting questions about the makeup of both the die-hard space fans and their counterparts at the other end of the spectrum.

Public Priorities/Rankings

When the public is asked to rank priorities for NASA and the space sector, certain trends become immediately obvious.

“How important is it for NASA to do X?” (AP-NORC)
68% - Asteroid Defense
59% - Study the Universe
47% - Send probes to explore the Solar System
42% - Maintain the International Space Station
34% - Find life on other planets
27% - Send astronauts to Mars
23% - Send astronauts to Moon
21% - Establish a permanent presence on other planets
19% - Establish a military presence in space

“Who should have a role in space exploration moving forward?” (AP-NORC)
US government - 60% leading role/33% some role/6% no role
Colleges & universities - 42% leading role/43% some role/14% no role
Private companies - 41% leading role/43% some role/14% no role
Other nations - 38% leading role/48% some role/12% no role

“Should X be a priority for NASA?” (Top/Low/Not) (Pew)
63%/25%/11% - Climate
62%/29%/9% - Asteroid defense
47%/40%/12% - Space Research
41%/44%/4% - Develop new technologies
35%/41%/20% - Study human health in space
34%/43%/22% - Search for raw materials
31%/42%/27% - Search for life on other planets
18%/45%/37% - Send astronauts to Mars
12%/42%/44% - Send astronauts to the Moon

“Do you have confidence in private companies to do X?” (great deal/fair/not too much/none) (Pew)
44%/36%/14%/4% - Make a profit from their endeavors
26%/51%/17%/5% - Build safe and reliable spacecraft
24%/41%/26%/9% - Control costs
23%/47%/22%/7% - Conduct research
13%/35%/38%/13% - Control space debris

“How important is X for the US government to prioritize?” (Top priority, Important but not Top, Not too Important, Should Not Be Done, Don’t Know) (Morning Consult)
35%/28%/18%/7%/11% - Monitoring the climate system
27%/35%/22%/5%/11% - Monitoring asteroids
19%/35%/24%/8%/13% - Developing tech (not just for space)
19%/34%/27%/8%/12% - Searching for natural resources
15%/34%/31%/8%/12% - Conducting space research
12%/28%/36%/12%/11% - Research space travel health effects
12%/26%/36%/14%/12% - Searching for new life/planets
8%/25%/42%/14%/12% - Sending astronauts to the Moon
7%/26%/39%/16%/12% - Sending astronauts to Mars
6%/18%/39%/24%/12% - Sending civilians to the Moon/Mars

Morning Consult also asked some interesting questions regarding the geopolitical and military aspects of space policy:
52% believe China is a ‘major threat’ to US leadership in space research, 45% believe the same about Russia, and 34% agreed about North Korea.
61% support President Biden’s decision to maintain the Space Force, with 23% unsure and 15% opposed.
This support was bi-partisan, with 60% of Democrats, 55% of Independents, and 71% of Republicans in support.

This data points to a public that still puts faith in the US government when it comes to space exploration, but is open to and supportive of private companies (though not to clean up after themselves). It is also abundantly clear, in multiple polls, that the public wants NASA to prioritize climate change, scientific research, and asteroid defense. Crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit are prioritized at a lower level by the general public regardless of which poll you look at.

The Space Force is an area where the public clearly has not formed solid opinions or gathered much information. The militarization of space ranks the lowest priority in the AP-NORC dataset at just 19%, and the CSPAN-IPSOS poll found the approval rating of the Space Force at 31% (only 23% awareness). However Morning Consult found 61% approving of it’s survival under the Biden Administration, which would seem to contradict the first data points. This bears watching as the Space Force is still getting organized, and public opinion, while not supportive now, remains largely unformed.

Despite hints from the earlier segments, further analysis is required to truly understand the impact interest intensity has on how people respond to these rankings. We know those who are more interested in space are more supportive of scientific research, are highly supportive of private companies, but also have more nuanced views towards NASA and its future. It’s unclear how intensity would fully break down on questions relating to crewed missions to the Moon and Mars, the search for life, climate change research, or asteroid defense.

Money Issues

When it comes to NASA’s budget, the public expresses a significant amount of uncertainty, with roughly half not even expressing an opinion as to whether it is too high or low. Question wording also generates statistically significant changes in responses, indicating that framing and context of the question is playing a sizable role in informing responses. This demonstrates a lack of hard formed opinions among the vast majority of the public.

CBS data shows that 32% of Americans say NASA’s budget is too low, while 21% say it is too high. This number is up from 16% ten years ago, and 15% twenty years ago, showing a growing share of Americans expressing the belief that NASA does not receive enough funding. Yet this growing cohort is still only a plurality, not even yet ⅓ of the public.

CSPAN/IPSOS data shows a similar 31% of Americans say NASA should get a budget increase, while 14% say NASA should be cut and the $ sent to private companies (55% don’t know). CSPAN/IPSOS actually asked two separate budget questions with very different framing to measure the impact on how Americans perceive NASA’s budget. The results were profound.

> When presented in absolute terms ($22 billion), 27% say NASA’s budget is too high, 20% say too low.
> When presented as .5% of the federal budget (or roughly $70 per American), 31% say it’s too high (+4%) while 41% say NASA’s budget is too low (+21%).

This 21% point swing in ‘too low’ responses based purely on the wording of the question demonstrates the power of messaging and framing when advocates discuss NASA, it’s budget, and it’s priorities. This is most likely a swing among the low interest voters discussed in earlier sections.

The small swing in responses saying NASA’s budget is too high (only 4% points), reveals a harder core of voters who more likely than not oppose most federal spending across the board (anywhere from 15 to 30% of respondents). There also appears to be a solid 30% or so who support increasing NASA’s budget regardless. That remaining 40%+ appears either indifferent or persuadable, based on framing and context.

Genuine Differences

While space exploration most often generates universally positive feelings across the electorate, there are instances where partisan, gender, or other demographic differences do become noticeably pronounced. This is not meant to highlight these issues as a wedge, or increase acrimony in the space community. It’s important to understand how different groups perceive and prioritize space exploration, so proper analysis and decision making can be made for the future.

These are broken down into discrete sections for better analysis.

Generational and Age Differences

Age gaps appear in both budgetary and personal travel questions. Younger voters appear more open to increasing NASA’s budget according to CBS data, and are more open to visiting off-Earth destinations (Low Earth Orbit, the Moon, or Mars) according to Pew and AP-NORC.

On NASA’s budget, 38% of those under 30 say it’s too low, compared to 29% of those over 30. (CBS)

“Would you be willing to X?” (under 50/over 50) (AP-NORC)
Go into orbit? (63%/40%)
Go to the Moon? (52%/27%)
Go to Mars? (45%/16%)

“Are you interested in space tourism?” (Pew)
63% of Millennials, 39% of Gen Xers, and 27% of Boomers said ‘Yes’.

Morning Consult found that 49% of Millenials and 46% of Gen Z said they would be willing to travel to space, versus just 32% of Gen X and 19% of Baby Boomers.


The Pew data revealed a number of differences in support between men and women when it came to various questions throughout the entire data sample. The trend is obvious, but its cause is not, and we would warn against reading anything more into this other than a need for far more extensive analysis.

77% of men see the US as a world leader in space, compared to 66% of women.
84% of men see the ISS as a good investment, compared to 76% of women.
63% of men see humans as essential to space exploration, compared to 54% of women.
54% of men see general space research as a NASA priority, compared to 40% of women.
51% of men say they would orbit the Earth, compared to 31% of women.
25% of men see research into human health in space as a NASA priority, compared to 11% of women.
74% of men have a fair amount or great deal of confidence that private space companies will build safe & reliable spacecraft, compared to 56% of women.
85% of men have a fair amount or great deal of confidence that private space companies will control costs, compared to 69% of women.

Morning Consult found that 44% of men and 23% of women were likely to travel to space if price was no concern.


The Pew data revealed a series of partisan differences on various questions, some conforming to popular political conceptions, others slightly more surprising. Overall, Democrats are more supportive of NASA’s work on climate, space research, and searching for life on other planets.

70% of Democrats believe NASA should continue and not give way to private companies, as opposed to 59% of Republicans.
Moderate/liberal Republicans support NASA’s future at a 67% clip, while conservative Republicans are split 53%-47%,
78% of Democrats believe NASA should prioritize climate research, compared to just 44% of Republicans.
53% of Democrats should believe NASA should prioritize general space research, compared to 38% of Republicans.
34% of Democrats believe NASA should search for life on other planets, compared to 26% of Republicans.

US Leadership in space

The data reveals somewhat contradictory responses when it comes to US leadership in space. Pew data shows an American public that broadly considers the US the world leader, while the CBS and AP-NORC data shows a public that sees the US as one of many leading spacefaring nations.

72% see the US as a world leader in space. (Pew)
40% say the US is a leader in space, 43% say one of many nations. (CBS)
17% say the US is the sole leader in space, 64% say one of many, 17% say not a leader at all. (AP-NORC)

Crewed presence

The electorate demonstrates considerable fluidity of opinions regarding support for crewed missions, especially to deep space. Both the AP-NORC and Pew data paint a complicated picture of where the public stands, and it reveals the differences in ‘high’ and ‘low’ interest voters from previous sections.

Do you favor ‘the’ return to the Moon, yes or no? (reference to NASA’s Artemis Moon program). 42% favor, 20% oppose.
When given a choice, 37% of respondents prioritize a mission to Mars 1st, 18% prioritize a return to the Moon 1st, and 43% actively say neither.
27% say it’s important for NASA to send astronauts to Mars.
23% say it’s important for NASA to send astronauts to the Moon.
21% say it’s important for NASA to establish a permanent presence on other planets.

Are humans ‘essential’ for space exploration? 58% say yes, 41% say no
How high of a priority is sending crews to Mars (high/medium/low)? 18%/45%/37%
How high of a priority is sending crews to the Moon (high/medium/low)? 12%/42%/44%

Morning Consult
How high should the US government prioritize X? (Top priority, high but not top priority, not a top priority, don't do at all, don't know)
8%/25%/42%/14%/12% - Sending astronauts to the Moon
7%/26%/39%/16%/12% - Sending astronauts to Mars
6%/18%/39%/24%/12% - Sending civilians to the Moon/Mars

The public can’t seem to make up its mind on the role they envision for crewed missions in space. Support for crewed missions as a concept is well over 50%, but support for missions beyond Low Earth Orbit to the Moon or Mars rank low on priority lists, and even the high water mark is only 42% when asked specifically about NASA’s Artemis program.

The 12% and 18% ‘high’ importance marks are almost certainly the high interest voters discussed earlier, and fit perfectly within the 10%-20% range we established.

In the Pew rankings, the 37% and 44% ‘low’ importance measures for the Mars and Moon missions respectively were 10% higher than the next highest item (the search for life). Combined with the 43% who actively stated ‘neither’ to AP-NORC when asked to prioritize Moon vs. Mars, this conforms roughly to the significant minority of the public described as ‘low interest’ earlier. A deeper analysis into this subgroup would likely reveal some fascinating insights.

Fun Facts

Neil Armstrong is among the most well known Americans ever, with a name ID of 83% according to CSPAN/IPSOS. Buzz Aldrin is behind him at a respectable 68%, while SpaceX Founder Elon Musk comes in at 57%. (No polling information exists on the name ID of Jeff Bezos).

Key Takeaways

Now it’s time to summarize the analysis and see what it reveals.
> Americans have broadly positive views of NASA, the International Space Station, and the scientific work NASA does. They believe it is an example of national pride and patriotism, and believe it serves to inspire young people.
> Personal behavior and attitudes reveal widespread participation in ‘passive’ space related activities (like watching an eclipse), but interest narrows dramatically as the conversation shifts to traveling to distant locations (like Mars).
> There are 3 groups as it relates to interest in NASA and space exploration; highly interested (10-20%), not interested at all (around 30%), and a large group of people interested to varying degrees (50-60%).
> Americans have made their priorities for NASA very clear: climate monitoring, asteroid defense, and scientific research.
> Questions surrounding NASA’s budget seem to largely conform to the interest groups, with a significant group being susceptible to framing and persuasion.
> Younger Americans are slightly more inclined to agree NASA’s budget is too low, and are more likely to be interested in space tourism and traveling off planet.
> There remains a pervasive gender gap throughout the survey questions that mandates more study and analysis.
> Democrats are more likely to support NASA’s work on climate monitoring, scientific research, and the search for life on other planets.
> The public expresses mixed feelings on whether the US is a leader in space, with most agreeing that it is to some degree, but the data is unclear on how many believe the US to be the sole leader in space.
> The public seems conflicted on the role of crewed missions in space exploration, with the ‘interest’ groups again making their differences apparent.

This is the American public as it relates to space policy and NASA: generally favorable views of NASA, but most American’s aren’t intensely invested, and please don’t ask them about the budget. Priorities tend to be Earth-centric, but there is support for crewed missions in some corners.

Differences exist along generational, gender, and partisan lines, some of which are predictable, others of which require more analysis to fully understand. Further analysis will not only explore these differences, but also include analysis of racial, educational, and geographical data to identify the dynamics at play there as well.

Overall the data offers some clarity while ultimately provoking more questions than it answers. American public opinion relating to NASA and space exploration will certainly be a fascinating area of analysis in the years ahead.

Data Sources
> Pew. Survey conducted via phone with 2,541 respondents March 27-April 9 2018. Margin of error +/- 2.7%.
> CSPAN-IPSOS. Survey conducted with 1020 online respondents June 14-16 2019. Margin of error +/- 3%.
> CBS. Survey conducted via phone with 1201 respondents between June 13-16 2019. Margin of error +/- 3%.
> AP-NORC. Survey conducted via phone and online with 1,137 respondents between May 17-20 2019. Margin of error +/- 4.1%.
> Morning Consult.. Survey conducted between February 12-15 2021. Margin of error +/- 2%.

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