The priorities of NASA and what Americans want the agency to focus on are very much out of sync, according to a survey that was carried out by Pew Research Center.
Recent NASA news include the activation of the New Horizons probe from six months of electronic hibernation to fly by a remnant of the birth of the solar system and an upcoming announcement regarding a discovery made by the Mars Curiosity rover. However, Americans apparently want NASA to instead focus on saving the Earth, instead of exploring space.
Americans Want NASA To Help Save The Earth
According to the Pew Research Center survey, 72 percent of Americans believe that it is important for the United States to remain a world leader in space exploration. The results also found that 65 percent think that NASA should remain involved in space exploration initiatives, despite the increasing role of private companies such as SpaceX.
However, whether space exploration missions should be the top NASA priorities is a different thing.
The survey, which involved about 2,500 respondents, revealed that Americans think NASA should focus on the tasks to "monitor key parts of the Earth's climate system" and "monitor asteroids/objects that could hit the Earth." According to the results, 63 percent and 62 percent of respondents believe that these two choices should be NASA's top priority.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the rankings for the choices are "send astronauts to Mars" and "send astronauts to the Moon," with only 18 percent and 13 percent of the respondents choosing the options as the top priority for NASA.
Should NASA Change Course?
The most important takeaway from the Pew Research Center survey is that NASA's spending priorities, set by the White House and Congress, are opposite the public's priorities for the agency.
"The vast majority of the public thinks that we should have a space program that saves Earth," said former Obama administration official Phil Larson, who is now assistant dean at the College of Engineering of the University of Colorado.
In contrast, the U.S. government is looking to cut funding for NASA projects related to Earth science. In addition, NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which is tasked with finding potentially dangerous asteroids, runs on a low yearly budget of $50 million, compared to the $4 billion that NASA spends on its missions to send humans to the Moon and Mars.
The public wants NASA to help solve climate change and prevent any asteroid crashing into Earth. NASA, however, will likely not change course due to the results of the survey, but perhaps it may need to raise more awareness on what it actually does with Americans.