July 31, 2011

Poll by IBOPE Zogby indicates the majority of voters support space exploration

According to a new poll by IBOPE Zogby, most people disagree with ending the shuttle and agree with the idea of a public/private partnership in space. Now that caught my attention. You see, the shuttle was intended as a low Earth orbit transport vehicle. Private companies are trying to do exactly that. By shutting down the shuttle we open the market to private companies.

However, that's not space exploration, that's space utilization. I think that closing down the shuttle not only fosters the growth of the private space market, but it also frees up resources that can be devoted to true space exploration. Furthermore, once the market has become established, scientific research can be funded primarily by national institutions. Those institutions can purchase flights on private rockets instead of requiring a LEO vehicle paid for by another national organization. This will help improve access to space for smaller organizations, such as universities.

So, while I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding the shuttle and private enterprise, I am glad to see that there is general support of the space program.

However, I'm not sure I like the poll itself. It was short, and the questions weren't always easily answerable. The first question asked if you agreed or disagreed with the decision to end the shuttle. The initial decision was made by Pres. Bush, and Obama decided to continue that decision when he took office. Secondly, the conditions under which each decision was made differ from each other. By clarifying which decision was meant would help clarify peoples thoughts on the matter.

Human SpaceflightImage via Wikipedia
Map of countries with human spaceflight capability (dark blue) 
The third question asked whether future space exploration should be conducted by NASA or private companies. There was no distinction made between LEO and GEO utilization and being the first group to pioneer a new horizon. Getting junk into space (and hopefully soon, back out of space) is different from first sending people to Mars or an asteroid.

The fourth and final question wondered whether people were concerned that other nations might surpass us in space. The question should have been broken into two parts. First, ask if you think that other nations will surpass us. Then ask if another nation surpassing us would concern you.

I do not think that this poll offers an accurate, in depth view on what people think of space exploration. It's questions do not provide insightful answers, and they do not address all the relevant issues. The poll lacks in clear definitions of terms. Overall, however, the poll's questions do quite well in posing the question: Should we be exploring space? As the sample size is fairly large, and somewhat representative, it seems clear that the majority of the public supports exploring space. But a more nuanced understanding is impossible with this poll. 

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