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Red Planet Poll of the “Mars Generation”

Credit: NASA

The findings and full analysis of a nationwide survey of U.S. citizens that focused on their opinions about the exploration of Mars were released today.

The poll found that 76 percent of Americans agree or strongly agree with the statement: “it is worthwhile to increase NASA’s percentage of the federal budget to 1 percent to fund initiatives, including a mission to Mars.”

Other poll highlights include:

– Seventy-two percent of survey recipients agreed or strongly agreed that it is necessary for the government to fund initial technologies to send humans to explore Mars.

– Eighty-four percent said that NASA should strengthen and expand partnerships with the private sector to achieve that same goal.

– Eighty-four percent of survey respondents also agreed that if Curiosity finds evidence of past or present life on Mars, we should send a human crew to verify the finding.

– The poll found that 71 percent of Americans are confident that humans will go to Mars by 2033.

Gauging NASA’s budget

Demographics have no impact on Americans’ confidence that humans will go to Mars within two decades.

Men had a higher level of agreement than their counterparts with the above four statements on financial backing and justification of a human Mars mission; their support ranged from 3 to 8 percentage points higher than females.

Respondents were also asked to gauge NASA’s percentage of the federal budget. On average, they answered that NASA spending represents 2.4 percent of the federal budget, with a standard deviation of 1.68 percent.

In reality, the administration’s request for NASA for FY2013 was $17.7 billion representing approximately 0.5 percent of the federal budget.

Potential barriers

When asked to rank potential barriers to human exploration of Mars, 73 percent of Americans believe that the greatest barrier is affordability, and 67 percent believe politics to be a “limiting barrier.” Technological capabilities and motivation are not seen as significant barriers by the majority of Americans.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents age 65 or older are confident that humans will go to Mars by 2033. They are the most confident out of all age groups. This group also had strong support for funding of space initiatives – 89 percent believe NASA’s budget should be increased to 1 percent of the federal budget and 96 percent are in agreement that it is necessary for the government to fund initial technologies to send humans to explore Mars.

Humans and robots

With the success of the Mars Curiosity rover landing, this poll was conducted to measure attitudes and levels of support toward human and robotic exploration of Mars.

When told that there are currently two operational NASA rovers on Mars, 67 percent of all respondents agreed the United States should send both humans and robots to Mars. The age group of 25-34 had the highest percentage of correctly naming Curiosity at 67 percent, more than 10 percent higher than any other age group.

According to the majority of Americans, the top three reasons for human exploration of Mars are 1) to achieve a greater understanding of Mars, 2) to search for signs of life, and 3) to maintain U.S. leadership in commercial, scientific and national defense applications.

Time to explore

The survey was conducted between Feb. 4, 2013, and Feb. 6, 2013, targeting a stratified random sample of 1,101 respondents representing a 95 percent confidence level and margin of error of +/-3 percent.

The “Mars Generation” survey was conducted by the independent market research team at Phillips & Company and sponsored by Explore Mars, Inc., a non-profit organization, and The Boeing Corporation.

“Americans are motivated and want to send humans to explore the Red Planet,” said Chris Carberry, Executive Director of Explore Mars – a co-sponsor of the poll. “Perhaps our greatest challenge is convincing our elected officials to embrace this goal and lead the way.”

Carberry added that he hoped the poll will serve as a catalyst to reinforce what Americans already support and encourage our nation’s leaders “that this is not the time to retreat. It’s the time to explore.”

By Leonard David

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