Is the astronaut no longer the great American hero? It seems today, most Americans couldn't care less about having â€œthe right stuff.â€? In fact, according to this month's exclusive American Demographics survey, a whopping 67 percent of Americans say they are not at all interested in becoming the next Dennis Tito. But even so, almost a third of them (32 percent), if presented with the opportunity during their lifetime, would be willing to pay for a trip to outer space.
Tito, famous for having paid the Russians $20 million for the chance earlier this year, isn't surprised that the majority of the country would rather not follow his lead. But he does think his jaunt helped to refuel interest in space exploration. Says Tito: â€œBased on the extensive worldwide media coverage and public reaction, it would be fair to believe that my flight captured the attention and imagination of millions of people around the globe and renewed their interest in our space program.â€?
That may be so, but overall, most Americans' concerns are more down to Earth. The survey results, from a nationally representative poll of 1,004 Americans conducted by Arlington Heights, Ill.-based research firm Market Facts, show that the intense interest in space exploration that dominated the Space Race has cooled down along with the Cold War. Indeed, the most important reasons people cite for exploring outer space have to do with finding ways to make life on our own planet more comfortable. For example, 81 percent of respondents say that an important reason to visit space is to research new health treatments for humans, and 74 percent say that searching for additional or alternative fuel sources is also a laudable goal.
Americans are markedly less interested in international â€” never mind intergalactic â€” pursuits. The lowest ranking reasons for exploring outer space are in the interest of global defense (57 percent say it's not important), establishing a life-sustaining colony away from Earth (52 percent) and searching for life on other planets (48 percent). Reducing the cost of civilian space travel receives equally low marks: 55 percent say that making space travel more affordable is not important as a goal for our space exploration endeavors.
Overall, women are less space-minded than men. Seventy-four percent say they have no interest in traveling to space, compared with 59 percent of men who are similarly disenchanted. Women are also more concerned about civilian space travel posing a threat to national security (40 percent are very or somewhat concerned, compared with 23 percent of men) or causing a safety hazard (55 percent versus 41 percent). They are also less interested in using civilian travel to fund space exploration: 61 percent of women agree it's a good idea, compared with 67 percent of men who think so. Married people also tend to be less inclined toward personal space travel (71 percent have no desire, compared with 61 percent of unmarrieds).
Those who were alive and starry-eyed in 1969 are decidedly less space-oriented today. Of adults between the ages of 35 and 44, many of whom witnessed the first moon landing during their impressionable childhood years, 74 percent say they're not looking to zoom to the moon. Baby Boomers between the ages of 45 and 54 â€” Sputnik gazers all â€” are slightly more keen on the idea (30 percent express some desire), but the vast majority (69 percent) still say â€œno way.â€? Older Americans are also very content to keep both feet on the ground: Less than a quarter of 55- to 64-year-olds want to go, and only 16 percent of those 65 and older want to follow in John Glenn's footsteps.
It's the younger generations that appear ready and willing to don space suits. Fifty-four percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 49 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are willing to pay to go to outer space. In addition, younger respondents are relatively eager to use space exploration to establish outer space colonies, bolster national and global defense, search for life on other planets and unlock the secrets of the universe. What's more, they're also most gung ho about using space exploration to make outer space voyages more economical for civilians (56 percent are in favor of the idea), and in support of using civilian travel to fund space science (77 percent of 18- to 24-year olds think it's a good idea, compared with 64 percent of the total population).
Dennis Tito says this latter fact bodes well for outer space. â€œI was interested to see that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that NASA should allow citizens to pay to travel to outer space in order to raise funds for space exploration.â€? Besides, he adds, we're all paying anyway. â€œThe bottom line is that the American people, who pay for the space program, should have every opportunity to share in it.â€?
Space for Sale
Men, minorities and the rich are all for advertising in outer space.
Q: Pizza Hut recently delivered the first pizza to outer space and Radio Shack filmed its first TV commercial in space. Both paid the Russians for the privilege. The U.S. does not participate in the use of outer space for commercial purposes. Do you think it should?
|No, corporate interests could conflict with scientific pursuits||27%||23%||30%||23%||31%||29%||28%||28%||24%|
|No, space should be commercial free||23%||20%||26%||25%||27%||22%||15%||25%||16%|
|Yes, there's no reason business should not be conducted in outer space||22%||28%||16%||20%||21%||26%||29%||21%||26%|
|Yes, if we don't do it, other countries will||17%||20%||14%||22%||15%||14%||20%||16%||23%|
|Numbers do not add up to 100 because not all answers are included.||Source: American Demographics/Market Facts|