Moon and Mars are not priorities for Americans on the space program's wish list



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Stars in the Milky Way depicted in clear sky (Owen Humphreys / PA)
Stars in the Milky Way depicted in clear sky (Owen Humphreys / PA)

The Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts, scientific research and the use of robots to explore the cosmos by sending humans back to the Moon or Mars, new research has found.

The Associated Press poll and the NORC Public Affairs Research Center released on Thursday, a month before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, lists the monitoring of asteroids and comets as the number one goal desired for the program space.

About two-thirds of Americans call it very or extremely important, and about nine out of 10 call it at least moderately important.

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Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses next to the replica of the Apollo 11 lunar excursion module, Eagle, at the Science Museum, London (Anthony Devlin / PA)

The investigation comes as the White House tries to get astronauts back to the moon, but only about a quarter of Americans said that astronauts' exploration of the Moon or Mars should be among the top priorities of the space program.

About another third called each of them moderately important.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969, or July 21 in the United Kingdom, became the first humans to walk on another celestial body.

In all, 12 NASA astronauts stepped on the moon.

Jan Dizard, 78, a retired professor of environmental studies living in Chico, Calif., Acknowledges there was more to learn on the moon and it would be "miraculous" to send astronauts to Mars.

But now is not the time, he emphasized.

"There are all kinds of other things, not less than it is climate change, that deserve our attention," Dizard said.

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Mars, the red planet (Nasa / Esa / PA)

"That other thing can wait."

After monitoring asteroids and comets, scientific research to expand knowledge of the Earth and the rest of the solar system and the universe then came on the list of North American space priorities, about six in 10 said it was either very or extremely important.

Almost half said the same about sending robotic probes, rather than astronauts, to explore space, and about 4 in 10 said the same about the continued funding of the International Space Station.

The search for life on other planets ranked fifth, with at least a very important 34% rating, followed by 27% for human expeditions to Mars and 23% for crew travel.

In a dead end for the last place among the nine listed goals: establishing permanent human residences on other planets, with 21% rating it as a very high priority, and establishing a US military presence in space with 19%. While other goals were considered at least moderately important by the majorities of the Americans, about half called a military presence and the unimportant space colonies.

Toni Dewey, 71, a retired clerical worker in Wilmington, North Carolina, said space exploration should benefit life on Earth and that exploiters should be machines versus humans.

"It would cost a lot of money to send someone to Mars," she said, "and we will have roads and bridges that need to be repaired here."

As for the moon, Mrs. Dewey remarked, "We've already been there."

But Alan Curtis, 47, of Pocatello, Idaho, sees Moon and Mars as a top priority, especially if the US wants to remain world leaders in space.

It is very bad that we have to rent a place in a Russian spaceship to reach the space station
Alan Curtis, of Idaho

Compared with the feats of the 1960s and 1970s, the US space program is now a second thought, he said.

"It's too bad we have to rent a spot on a Russian spacecraft to get to the space station," said Curtis, a box from the store who says he was an occasional bounty hunter.

He pointed to the first landing of a spacecraft on the other side of the moon by China in January.

Abdul Lotiff, 28, a manager of a retail security company in Mason City, Iowa, is also in favor of returning to the moon.

He sees economic benefits there, with the resulting new technology spreading to areas outside the space business.

In addition, he said, if and when the Earth becomes overpopulated, the Moon could serve as a springboard for humanity's expansion into space.

The poll called for Americans to choose directly between the Moon and Mars for exploration by the American astronaut.

The red planet was the winner in about two times: 37% compared to 18%.

However, 43% said that no destination was a priority.

For Americans under 45, born after NASA's plans at Apollo, Mars was at the top by an even larger margin: 50 percent preferred a trip to Mars, up from 17 percent for the moon.

A third said that it should not even be a priority.

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The Emirates Air Line cable cars are cut against the backdrop of the moon (Yui Mok / PA)

For those 45 years of age or older, 52% said that neither Mars nor the Moon should be a priority as a human destiny. Of this age group, 26% preferred to send astronauts to Mars and 19% to the moon.

As for the deadline for returning the astronauts to the moon within five years, NASA aims to have the lunar south pole rich in water by 2024, about four out of ten Americans favor the plan, versus two in each ten against.

The rest had no strong opinion anyway.

The good news, at least for NASA and its contractors, is that 60% of Americans believe that the benefits of the space program justified the cost.

In 1979, on the 10th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon, 41% of Americans said the benefits were worth the cost, according to an AP-NBC News poll.

If they had the opportunity to experience space travel, about half of Americans said they would orbit Earth, while about four out of ten would fly to the moon and about three out of every 10 would go to Mars.

Among those willing to travel to the red planet, about half, or 15 percent of all Americans, said they would move to a Mars colony, even if it meant never returning to Earth.

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Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photo next to the US flag (Neil Armstrong / Nasa / PA)

Men were more likely than women to travel to any space destination: Earth orbit, moon and Mars.

Curtis says the US can have a colony on the moon now "if we had put our money in the right places."

"We have not been there in a long time," he said.

"Is the flag still there?"

US flags were planted on the moon during each of the Apollo landings until 1972.

The first was knocked over by the exhaust of the engine when Armstrong and Aldrin of Apollo 11 took off from the moon.

Press Association

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