In the wake of the wildly successful landing of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover on Aug. 6, 2012, it may come as no surprise that the American public are currently feeling rather enthusiastic about exploring Mars. This sentiment has now been bolstered by a recent poll carried out for the non-profit corporation Explore Mars by the global communications company Phillips & Company. After surveying 1,101 people, 71 percent of the participants said they feel confident the U.S. will land a human on Mars within the next two decades.
On average, the same sample said they believed the U.S. government spends 2.4 percent (with a standard deviation of 1.68 percent) of the federal budget on NASA after they were told the agency currently has two operational rovers on the Martian surface. This, sadly, is woefully overoptimistic.
The current allocation for NASA is a skinflint 0.5 percent ($17.7 billion) of the 2013 federal budget. By comparison, the average federal budget allocated to NASA during the Apollo Program in the 1960′s and early 70′s represented 2.8 percent.
Needless to say, when informed that NASA gets such a small slice of the federal pie, 75 percent of the respondents said they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that it is “worthwhile to increase NASA’s percentage of the federal budget to 1 percent to fund a mission to Mars.”
“Despite difficult economic times, the American people are still inspired by space exploration and are committed to human exploration of Mars,” said Chris Carberry, Executive Director of Explore Mars. “This is a wakeup call to our leaders that Americans are still explorers.”
On top of the respondents’ “to do” list on Mars was to first achieve a greater understanding of the red planet, followed by search for extraterrestrial life in the red soil. Another priority was “to maintain U.S. leadership in commercial, scientific and national defense applications.”
Despite the politics, NASA keeps surprising the world by what they can do with the tight budget they’ve been allocated. But landing a one-ton rover on Mars, although mind blowing, costs a lot less than mounting a human expedition. So if the 71 percent want to see a NASA-led human mission, they’ll have to start bugging their representatives to support an increase in the space agency’s budget. Otherwise, it’s down to the commercial space sector to spearhead mankind’s next great interplanetary adventure.
Image: Artist’s impression of Curiosity entering the Martian atmosphere last year. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech